Open sewers, power-less nights, eager youngsters with a mall-fixation — this is Khora, on the Delhi-Ghaziabad border, one of India’s youngest towns or census towns.
According to census 2011, the number of such towns has increased three-fold in the last decade — from 1,362 in 2001 to 3,894 in 2011. And some states that have witnessed the highest growth are West Bengal, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh.
Out of a population of over three lakh, today only 20 households in Khora are into farming. Most people have sold their farmland to builders and are now traders or part of the construction business.
Products of an uneven economic growth, be it construction boom-led or boosted by remittances from abroad, these towns are characterised by their inbetweenness — part city, part village. This reflects not just in the townscape but also in the aspirations of its people.
Pardeep, 22, works at a mall in neighbouring Vaishali, but after work hours he is back in Khora where he runs a hip-hop academy.
And that's the way it is. In these census towns, youngsters queue up for spoken English and computer classes, but for more quality services like a good
hair cut or a bite of a burger they hop across to the nearest city.
Demographer PM Kulkarni terms the birth of these wannabe cities a "mixed blessing". Positives include better roads, improved power supply, and in the list of negatives are lack of schools and hospitals, and increased alcohol-abuse thanks to mushrooming liquor shops.
The census towns with their lopsided development pose fresh challenges for policy makers. The Planning Commission has already agreed to fund a scheme providing essential civic services — sewerage, water supply, street lights —to such places.
Quick to sniff out new markets, FMCG companies such as Dabur, Marico have also swooped in on these towns for work force. If all goes well, the future belongs to Khora and its 'census cousins', as is evident from Shyam Lal's shelf.
Alongside the regular lassi and juice, this 35-year-old shopkeeper has started stocking up beer. He manages to sell only three to four bottles a day, but believes customers will come —eventually. "When another lane of NH 24 is built, all of Delhi will land up in Khora."
(With inputs from Abhijit Patnaik, Zehra Kazmi)