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Corporate retailers on Kerala Govt hit list

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Ever heard of retail emergency? Incredulously enough, it is seemingly close to being declared in Kerala.

The ruling Left Democratic Front (LDF) government in the state has drafted a new legislation on the lines of the Central Essential Commodities Act banning corporate FMCG retailers, both Indian and MNCs, in the state. With the Opposition UDF supporting the Kerala government’s stand, the first-of-its-kind law in the country could soon become a reality.

“This government will not entertain any corporate giants in this state. We have worked on a new legislation under the Kerala State Essential Commodities Act, which will prevent the operation of corporate retailers in the state,” CPI leader and Food Minister C Divakaran, the prime mover behind the new legislation, told Indiaretailing.

According to him, the government has also directed the local self-government institutions across major cities not to grant licenses to retail giants like Reliance; and even to cancel licenses already granted, if the law permits, especially in food and grocery retail. According to sources, the legislation has the backing of the state’s powerful traders’ lobby, the Vyapari Vyavasayi Ekopana Samithy.

While LDF sources claim the legislation is not aimed at any big corporate in particular, Divakaran is clear that the immediate provocation is Reliance Retail. “It is not a Reliance alone, but all retail majors, such as Pantaloon’s Food Bazaar and maybe even Wal-Mart. We won’t allow anybody to loot us,” said EV Vijayan, secretary to Divakaran.

“I don’t believe in these political gimmicks. The big question is, do we want them here or not? And if the response was bad, the retail giants in question would have gone by now. See, good and bad are two sides of a coin and we need to balance it, and take a decision that is good for the state and its people,” remarked P Vinod, deputy news editor, Malayala Manorama.

Reliance Retail proposes to open 70 outlets across Kerala’s 14 district centres and has already bought rental space for operations in the state capital. Government sources pointed out that Reliance aims to have most of its outlets concentrated in the cities, not rural areas, and the Left rules all the five city corporations in the state.

It is learnt that the license for Reliance’s six functional outlets in the state was issued by the Kochi city corporation, which is in firm CPM control. Interestingly, Reliance had even got a senior member of the CPM state committee and the CPM deputy mayor of the city to inaugurate two of its outlets in Kochi. As it turned out, the same duo inaugurated the CPM-led Kochi rally against big corporate retailers as well, a couple of days later.

Last week, Kerala’s merchants called for a 12-hour closure of shops to mark their first major protest against the entry of retail giants in the state. The shutdown stir, called by a joint action committee of traders and merchants, has the backing of the ruling Left and the Opposition Congress Party.

Vishnu Rageev R, Bangalore

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