One year ago, the Pour Tous Distribution Centre (PTDC) was set up as a new step towards an Auroville economy where the material needs of all are provided in line with the ideals expressed by The Mother. The Economy Group, questioning the PTDC’s development, called for a general meeting.
“We're getting there,” says Jocelyn happily. Nicole nods her agreement. A vast majority in the General Meeting on Wednesday March 7th expressed support for the ongoing Pour Tous Distribution Centre (PTDC) experiment of which the two are the enthusiastic executives.
This meeting had been called by the Economy Group (EG). Responsible for the allocation of community budgets, the EG had cast a hard look at the Rs 38,000 a month it was counting out to PTDC while the experiment benefited ‘only' 350 people. The vast majority of Aurovilians, argued the Economy Group, have not joined the scheme. Should the budget continue to be paid? If so, could the scheme be made accessible to more people?
Taking this position, the Economy Group was in for some hard talk. Proponents pointed out that the scheme is a step towards the economy Mother wished for Auroville. The ideal Auroville economic model, they said, is not to turn Auroville into a market economy and make a business of everything but one in which the material needs of all would be provided for without money circulation. The EG members, instead of only thinking in terms of profit and productivity, should re-study Mother's words and find ways to implement Mother's economy. “Your mandate is to implement Mother's Dream. What right do you have to change Her guidelines?” was one of the indignant responses to the EG members.
Others pointed out that finally something is being done that many people feel really good about. “We feel great joy in this experiment – even though we have only made a little step. But why do you threaten to kill the baby?” “This PTDC is a way to get away from the money. I feel a fire of aspiration burning; there is hope for Auroville again. The money system has pulled us far away from where we are supposed to go.” “It is embarrassing to sit here and argue about a mere Rs 38,000 while over 350 people benefit by this experiment. I invite the EG members to join the scheme and try it out for themselves. Perhaps then they'll understand.”
The EG members, far from being sitting ducks, responded with equal fervour. “When this EG came into existence about two years ago it was faced with a large deficit created by the uncertainty that government funding would be forthcoming. Our priorities were to continue free education and improve people's maintenance which had remained unchanged for many years. Today, the single largest chunk of our expenditure goes to education and maintenances have increased from Rs 3,500 to Rs 5,000 a month. The EG is responsible for community funds benefiting as many Aurovilians as possible; that's why we ask these questions.”
These arguments did not convince the critics. They responded that while it was nice that the maintenances were increased, in fact an opportunity was lost. “Instead of making a step towards the ideal economy by providing more goods and services ‘in kind,' you caved in to the arguments that Mother's economic model cannot be imposed and that people should have a choice, and you decided to pay extra cash. And now again you threaten to disrupt a system which is clearly trying to be on the lines of Mother's ideals.” Others pointed out that the EG was inconsistent. If it was so concerned about promoting equal rights for everyone, why hadn't it addressed the inequality between the commercial and the service sector? “People working in the commercial sector can take whatever maintenance they want. Those working in the service sector have to live on what the community provides. Why don't you address this problem in a public meeting?”
Not all those in the meeting supported the PTDC project. Tamil Aurovilians in particular expressed discontent with the scheme. “Our food expenses are less than those of Western Aurovilians . Also, we have special requirements that the PTDC doesn't meet. For that reason we prefer to have more money in cash, so that we can do our own shopping and save.” Some Tamil Aurovilians referred to the school fees they have to pay because they have chosen to send their children to schools outside Auroville as these schools provide diplomas which Auroville schools do not. Others point at the substantial expenses they sometimes incur to meet social obligations.
The PTDC executives acknowledged these problems, but explained that the experiment had just started. “It took us almost one year of study with a dedicated group of Aurovilians before we dared to make the step and started the PTDC. At first, only a hundred and sixty people joined. To our great joy, within the year the number of participants has more than doubled. But Auroville is still far from providing for all the needs of the Aurovilians. To pay maintenances in cash is not what Auroville should be doing – Auroville is supposed to provide for the basic needs of its members without exchange of money. We have to start somewhere – and that is what the PTDC has been doing. We feel a sense of urgency. Stopping this project would be a step backwards from Auroville's ideals. If that happens, we would never be able to set the clock back.”
The meeting concluded with a firm commitment from the PTDC executives to study how the scheme could include more people without compromising the experiment; how a second PTDC outlet could open in the Pour Tous store at Aspiration; and how a common purchasing service could benefit the whole of Auroville. They also announced that soon the scheme will be extended to become a Prosperity Service which would include more goods and services to be made available in kind as the next step towards a truer Auroville economy.