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There is a distinct note of pride in Mahesh Kumar's words as he takes visitors around a new meat processing plant at Dasna, in Ghaziabad district. The de facto manager of Eagle Continental Foods has good reason to be smug. Imported machinery for the slaughter house, which has a capacity of 400 buffaloes and 200 sheep and goats; an effluent treatment plant that can treat up to 200 kilolitres per hour; a unit that generates employment for at least 450 people; an export order from Algeria, and a government grant of Rs 50 lakh to set up the plant—all have ensured that the unit is off to a good start.
The plant is just one of the catalysts for change in Dasna, a medium-sized, peri-urban town of 24,428 residents (Census 2001). The National Highway-24 that divides the town has also decided the tone of development. While on one side exists the old town, the opposite side fringes on the modern, with its meat processing factory and plywood units.
Census 2011 will update the population figures for Dasna only by February next year, but the character of the place has already altered to accommodate the changing aspirations of its residents and the new influences that settlers from across the country bring with them. Those looking at trade and industry will also have to redraft plans and adopt a fresh approach for this town, a middle ground between urban centres and rural markets.
Congested urban areas with high population density are forcing industry to spiral outward like ink on a blotting paper. What was strictly out of limit about 20 years ago is now very much part of a big city. A perfect example of how a metro grows to swallow suburban locales is the National Capital Region around Delhi.
As a result, the encroachment of rural areas is irrevocably changing the character of these places. As city dwellers move to these locations, they take with them their lifestyle and aspirations. Improvement in ways and means of travel has also had an effect on the two-way traffic between urban centres and non-urban locations. So, Dasna, a short 40 km from Ghaziabad city, has already begun to absorb urban influences. Local residents travel to malls and cinema halls in Ghaziabad on weekends, and Delhi is within 100 km reach. At the Dasna nagar panchayat, Dinesh Kumar Kaushik has another descriptor to fit the town. “It's rurban,” he says. “It is a rural strip, but has urban facilities such as water, power and sewage,” he explains. Urban symptoms like migration are also seeping in the small town. The new part is attracting skilled labour for the new industry. The Eagle foods plant, for instance, uses labour from Kerala and Bihar.
A new way of life
With the unique vantage of proximity to both rural and urban centres, peri-urban towns afford a glimpse at the way urbanisation is seeping into non-urban settings. They crystallise, in a way, a difficult thing to measure—the pace and direction of change. Predominantly trading towns such as Hodal in Haryana's Faridabad district, for instance, continue to play the part of both transmitter of goods and values and a buffer between rural and urban centres. Commission agents, shopkeepers and rice mill owners form the creamier layer of this society. The lower strata includes workers and migrant labour.
In Hodal, a large town of around 98,000, agri-input stores such as those selling tractors, seeds and fertilisers jostle for space with cement and other construction material. Here, new businesses such as an Internet café, institutes of learning, mobile repair and computers, have also sprung up.
Subhash Chandra of Hodal, who owns a tractor franchise for Massey Fergusson, uses a food metaphor to capture the flux in Hodal society in the past few years. “We used to eat oatmeal before, and now we feast on rice pudding,” he says.
Business is good for Chandra too. His agency Jai Shiv Tractors sells an average of 10-12 tractors a month to customers from some 38 adjoinin