Yogendra Singh asks us to follow him in our car as he takes a detour around Shamli city in western Uttar Pradesh to take us to his village Goherni. He stops his motorcycle frequently alongside lush sugarcane fields to ensure he has not lost us. As we finally reach his home after precariously manoeuvring through a narrow lane, he says, "I could have brought you through the city. It is a shorter route but takes a longer time because of the traffic." He is not wrong, as we later realise when we take that route back.
The roads in the headquarters of the eponymous district, around 120 km north of Delhi, are clearly ill-equipped to handle the chaotic medley of street vendors, buses, motorists and pedestrians.
Locals hope this could change if the state government's proposal to the Union urban development ministry to include Shamli, which has three different routes to Delhi, in the National Capital Region (NCR) is accepted. But Singh is not so sure. "People have been misinformed about NCR. Some even think Shamli will be part of the National Capital Territory (NCT) of Delhi," says the sugarcane farmer, who owns three acres.
In the last decade, NCR has expanded over 1.5 times in size to over 54,000 sq km, accounting for 1.65% of India's land area, and it houses 4.7% of India's population. NCR is a one of a kind, multi-state region that comprises NCT-Delhi, 13 districts of Haryana, seven in UP and two in Rajasthan. (Three of those — Muzaffarnagar in UP and Jind and Karnal in Haryana — were added last year.)
The idea behind the region was to decongest and decentralise Delhi, one of the world's largest urban agglomerations, and develop the areas around it so the migration to the capital would reduce. Delhi, which saw a huge influx of migrants after Partition in 1947, grew by more than 50% every decade from 1951 to 1991, and then in the next 10 years the growth dropped to 47%. Between 2001 and 2011, its population rose at less than half the pace.
Shamli, which lies on a fertile sugarcane belt, was carved out of Muzaffarnagar in 2011 and since Muzaffarnagar was included in NCR last year, it was only a matter of time before the UP government asked for the same for Shamli. "Around half of the district's population are in already in urban areas and we are sandwiched between Panipat, Karnal (both in Haryana) and Muzaffarnagar, which are all already in NCR," says Sujeet Kumar, the district magistrate of Shamli, arguing for its induction in NCR. Shamli has a population of 1.27 million.
One of the main attractions for districts wanting to be part of NCR are the funds they will be eligible for from the NCR Planning Board (NCRPB), the apex planning body in the region, which is under the Union urban development ministry. NCRPB was set up in 1985 through an Act of Parliament, an outcome of a 1962 master plan to look at Delhi in the regional context. As of March 2015, NCRPB had funded 291 projects with a total cost of `19,738 crore, of which it had just sanctioned `9,257 crore in its 30-year existence.