There may be much to cheer for the retail sector in West Bengal with Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee coming out in their support, though they have preferred to adopt a cautious attitude.
“If we want a market mechanism, we must allow corporate houses in retail, though slowly and cautiously. We want private participation,” the chief minister told the 153rd annual general meeting (AGM) of the Bengal Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI) in Kolkata.
The West Bengal government is working out a compromise formula for introducing agricultural retail without displacing the small, neighbourhood retailers. For this the state government has formed an agricultural committee, which includes leading scientists, to focus on developing a market mechanism, agricultural production rate and vegetable production.
‘If we want new market mechanism, we should allow foreign houses into the agricultural retailing sector. We have to switch over from the conventional market to a new type of agricultural retailing market,” Bhattacharjee said.
“There is a controversy going on over foreign investment in the agricultural retail trade in West Bengal,” he admitted. According to him, “If we want to consolidate our agricultural market with increasing production rate, we have to take up new policies slowly and cautiously.”
“If we want to set up a chain of cold storages and generate employment, we have to allow big corporate houses to come to the agri-retail sector slowly and cautiously,” Bhattacharjee asserted.
The reason cited was that 10-30 per cent of vegetables perish due to lack of market mechanism. West Bengal produces around 11.6 million tonnes of vegetables.
“To preserve crops and vegetables, we want to construct a chain of cold storages. To solve the problem, we want private partnership,” the chief minister said. “The old form of selling vegetables in old vans and handpulled carts will have to replaced by a new market mechanism,” he said. But there was a rider. Bhattacharjee said that small-time retailers should not lose their jobs.
On the chief minister’s freshly articulated stand, industry sources preferred to adopt a “wait and watch” policy as they felt the situation at the ground level would have to be seen.
“Of course, his (chief minister) remarks are encouraging, but it may be rather too early to say anything since some partners in the Left Front government are against retail,” sources said.
The Left Front government in West Bengal, led by Bhattacharjee’s Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M), is facing stiff resistance from partner Forward Bloc (FB) on allowing the entry of big international and domestic retail players in the state’s agro-retailing market.
The proposal of Reliance Retail Ltd (RRL) for entry into the agricultural retail sector in West Bengal has created a rift between a reformist Bhattacharjee and the FB, which has the second highest number of seats in the state assembly after CPI-M.
Bhattacharjee said the state government has also made suggestions to the Planning Commission to strengthen self-sufficiency in food grains and increase national agricultural growth to four per cent during the 11th Plan.
Leading retailers had faced stiff opposition in the state when they opened their outlets, forcing many of them to pull down the shutters.
– Sri Krishna and Bengaluru Bureau