By Sunita Nahar BBC News, Calcutta:

The City Centre mall was opened more than a year ago in eastern Calcutta. The malls are changing the way Indians shop.With its shops, restaurants, cafes and multiplexes, it has become something of a landmark in the city.

Glass facades of fast food outlets and designer shops beckon you to share what the mall advertises as a world-class experience in shopping. During the weekends, families flock to the mall and spend the whole day there.

For Mittali Srivastava, a housewife with two children, it is a sign of progress and development.
“The service is good, it is convenient and definitely the future India,” she says.

“Globalisation has arrived… India is catching up with the rest of world”

“I can bring my whole family with me.

“I can shop, take my kids to see a movie, let them play in the leisure zone, have lunch with friends. And I can do it all under one roof”

“The choice of designer labels is great and there’s even a cyber cafe,” he says.

“Globalisation has arrived. India is catching up with the rest of world.”

Western habits :

Ms Srivastava and Mr Ghosh are happy with their mall experience and would like to see the huge, unorganised retail sector in India – which includes hundreds of thousands of pavement sellers – brought under a more organised umbrella.

We’ll all soon be wearing denim jeans and white T-shirts
Fashion designer Padmaja Krishnan

But Padmaja Krishnan, a fashion designer, believes malls will destroy the Indian way of doing business.
She says she prefers going to her local fruit and vegetable sellers on the pavement near her home.

Nothing is marked or labelled, everything is fresh and the best bit is the bargaining.
“With the malls, we’re seeing fixed prices and the standardisation and westernisation of products,” she says.

“We’ll all soon be wearing denim jeans and white T-shirts.”

Curse or blessing?

The debate over the future of India’s retail sector has arisen because people are questioning whether the public land used for these malls, the ultimate symbol of consumerism, is being put to good use.

Critics argue they have done nothing to change many people’s lives.
In fact, because the malls are offering attractive prices, they are squeezing out the small traders who can no longer afford to compete – thereby sharpening the divide between the rich and poor in India.

At the moment, there are more than 100 malls in India.

By 2007 there will be 300, according to the International Council of Shopping Centres.
Economists say the boom is being driven by demand, the liberalisation in trade and because people in India have more spending power.

They say the march of market forces is inevitable, and as in the US and Europe, many small traders will lose their livelihood if the government does not control the situation.