Does the Governing Board's decision to reconstitute Auroville's Funds and Assets Management Committee indicate an increasing intervention of the Board?
For the second time in less than one year the Governing Board of the Auroville Foundation has decided to intervene in an area which so far been managed by the residents of Auroville. The first time was in March 2006, when it appointed a Land Consolidation Committee (LCC). Till then, land purchase was the domain of Auroville's Land and Estate Management which was responsible for raising funds, negotiating land prices and purchasing available lands with the approval of the Secretary.
However, under the previous Secretary of the Auroville Foundation, land purchase had come to a complete standstill. Anxious to resume land purchase with full vigour, and aware of the complexity and magnitude of the task, the Board created a dynamic new committee. It consists of 11 members; five of them, including the Secretary, have been nominated by the Board, and six members by the Residents' Assembly. The LCC is accountable to the Board.
In January this year, the Funds and Assets Management Committee (FAMC) was reorganised. The FAMC is a body created under the Auroville Foundation Rules 1997. These Rules, however, embody contradictions. The FAMC has been defined as a committee of the Governing Board, while elsewhere in the Rules the FAMC is referred to as a committee of the Residents' Assembly. The latter was the original intention, and had been agreed upon in a meeting at the Ministry of Human Resources Development when the draft Rules were being discussed.
The mistake was only discovered after the Rules were promulgated. The then Secretary of the Auroville Foundation, Mr. Bala Baskar, informed the HRD Ministry of the errors along with the request to rectify them. Pending the modification of the Rules, he proceeded according to the original intention and attended every FAMC meeting for the next 4 years as permanent invitee, while the chairmanship rested in the hands of Aurovilians. When he left Auroville in 2001, he commented on his participation as “beneficial for both sides, for us to better understand the difficulty the community faces, and for them to get instant feedback from us, including our assessment on possible outside responses to the problem. It has become an essential point for interaction.”
The next Secretary, Mr. Sharma, did not accept the views of his predecessor. As the modification of the Rules had still not happened, he lost little time in declaring the FAMC ‘illegal' and decided not to attend its meetings. But when he left office in July 2005, modification of the Rules was still pending.
By that time, a new Governing Board had taken office. It considered that under the Foundation Act only the Governing Board has the responsibility of administering the Foundation's properties and that only the Board is accountable for their proper management to the Indian Government and Parliament. The Residents' Assembly, according to the Act, has only the power to advise the Board. The FAMC's practical experience – including four years of smooth and effective functioning in cooperation with Mr. Bala Baskar and some years without a Secretary's presence – was ignored.
The Governing Board proposed its own modifications of the Rules to the HRD Ministry. Pending the Ministry's decision, on January 25th 2007, the chairman of the Board, Dr. Karan Singh, reconstituted the FAMC as a committee of the Governing Board. He appointed the Secretary as convener, the Financial Advisor of the HRD Ministry and the Finance Officer of the Auroville Foundation as ex-officio members, and 9 persons proposed by the Working Committee as Aurovilian members.
There is a general unease in Auroville with these decisions of the Board. One reason is that these important bodies are only accountable to the Board and no longer to the Residents' Assembly. Another is that Aurovilians fear that their freedom to implement the ideals of Auroville and their right to self-management will be straight-jacketed by the Board's interventions, or by attempts to run Auroville as another department of the Government of India.
Yet another concern is that the previous FAMC had constituted two important sub-committees, the Economy Group and the Housing Group. The Governing Board's (proposed) amendments of the Rules say that such subcommittees have also to be notified by the Foundation. Will these sub committees too become subject to increasing control by the Board and be only accountable to it?
Finally, there are concerns how the new FAMC will deal with the community's Unity Fund – the Fund which currently receives all incomes and channels it to respective units and projects.
Till today, answers to these questions are pending.
For the Board these concerns are unwarranted. In a reflection on the International Advisory Council's observations for the need of devolution of power – that decisions be taken at the appropriate executive level instead of the top-down approach – Dr. Karan Singh observed that the Board regards the Charter of Auroville as its guiding philosophy and is striving to promote a pattern of governance balancing the Board's accountability with the Residents' Assembly's legitimate role in the development of Auroville. “The Governing Board is deeply committed to the ideals of Auroville and equally conscious of its responsibilities towards the people of India in respect of Auroville. The Board will continue to seek the close and constructive collaboration of the Council and the Assembly in its efforts to advance the cause of Auroville.”