Rural village politics foster poorly planned residential and commercial development. This can result in poor or no sanitation and waste disposal that clogs the natural flow channels, silting up the surface water and holding tank, polluting them with toxins that seep into the groundwater sources. While considerable work goes into education with capacity building, in programs with villages on environmental issues, and in the promotion of organic farming (see Sustainable Livelihood Institute), implementations are too often short sighted, with villagers choosing whatever method is cheapest and/or most expedient. Waste treatment is seldom considered and farmers still insist on using harsh chemicals in treating crops.
For itself and the benefit of the villages, it is imperative that Auroville overcomes environmental pollution toxin and saline water intrusion, provide water conservation for Auroville and the bioregion, and provide for food security due to the loss of agricultural lands to development and chemical use. The best recourse is to secure valuable watershed and bring it under managed control and to protect/secure farmland that is best suited for organic farming needs and serve as demonstration plots for training local farmers.
As it is all across India, farming is being abandoned or moving from subsistence to cash crops, such as cashews, and the young are moving to the cities in search of opportunity off the land. Countering this trend, Auroville has been increasing employment of villagers, now employing over 6,000 people, making Auroville one of the largest employers in the region. Additionally, Auroville residents, its many volunteers and guests, and daily visitors have brought commercial opportunity to the villages, allowing village residents to open stores and restaurants. Unfortunately, there is also less desirable commercial development along access roads in and around villages by outside business owners
Of even greater concern, the growth rate of the tourism and manufacturing sectors in nearby Pondicherry has been one of the highest in the country, and Auroville is within easy reach of the much larger Chennai to the north. Auroville lays between Pondicherry and its university campus, just off from its airport. Thus, Auroville is also impacted by land speculators and commercial development from moneyed interests.
Land speculators cater to a growing upper middle class with disposable incomes, who are attracted by the quality of Auroville’s natural environment for a vacation home. Rather than small individual plots the greater threat is from developers that subdivide property and sell plots and spec houses, even apartment blocks, without consideration for infrastructure (waste management, parking, etc.) and services, such as schools. Commercial interests seek financial opportunity with Auroville’s guests. Financial opportunity is sought without consideration of impact to the Auroville community, its economy, values, and codes of conduct. Leveraging Auroville’s environmental improvements and amenities, speculators and commercial interests penetrate as deeply as possible into the township, typically disregarding state building regulations or operating with the intent of using political influence to change zoning to commercial use.
Land issues are highly disruptive of Auroville regenerative infrastructure planning. Auroville today and what it offers to the world, depends on maintaining the integrity of its integrated self-sustaining planning model. During some months Auroville has as many as 12,000 people, including large numbers of young volunteers, in resident. As a center for experimentation and learning, it welcomes guests interested in its activities and does not seek to commercialize the guest experience beyond the basics of what is needed to engage them in the experience. It does not seek to become the tourist destination that some speculators hope to encourage. Rather, it seeks sufficient buffer from those who would commercialize and monetize the experience so that it can peacefully carry on its activities. Auroville visitor shops sell only Auroville originated merchandise.
While a wide range of commercial products are available in the villages, non-Aurovillian products introduced into the heart of Auroville challenge the organizing principles of becoming a fully self–sustaining economy. Intentional misrepresentation, whether explicit or implied, negatively impacts the image of Auroville with guests who assume that these operators are sanctioned and their products represent Auroville standards. In terms of services, Auroville is peaceful, without liquor stores, bars, or nightclubs, and does not operate a police force. Except for very few exceptions over five decades, disturbances come from outside the community. Of deep concern are the introduction of service businesses, particularly those operating at night and attracting clientele from outside. Such social problems are now common in some villages.