New Delhi: Protests
over the entry of global retail chains such as Wal-Mart and
Carrefour saw tens of thousands of shop-owners downing their
shutters across India Thursday, demanding reversal of the decision
to allow foreign equity in their sector.
The nationwide protest was called by the Confederation of All
India Trade Associations to demand the withdrawal of the decision
last week to permit up to 51 percent foreign equity in multi-brand
retailing and 100 percent in single-brand format.
"It has been a successful bandh (closure). It demonstrates the
anger and resentment of traders on the crucial issue of permitting
foreign equity in retail trade sector," said Praveen Khandelwal,
secretary general of the confederation, over phone in New Delhi.
According to IANS reports from the national capital, Mumbai and
other cities across the country, markets bore a deserted look, as
most shops, save pharmacies and some grocery stores, remained
shut. Some bigger stores were open.
"Around five crore (50 million) traders belonging to 10,000
associations of traders are participating in the bandh. They also
participated in protest marches in markets across the country,"
Khandelwal told IANS.
The association said limiting retail stores with foreign equity in
cities that have more than one million population, with minimum
sourcing of 30 percent from small and medium enterprises, meant
little for small traders.
"The foreign retailers will open in big cities. But they will
source from mandis across rural areas and small towns. Their
money-power can corner supplies. They will dominate. This is not
good," Khandelwal said.
"The existing Indian retail structure, having little entry
barriers and limited skill sets, acts as a safety valve. The entry
of multinational corporations in retail trade will largely destroy
this safety valve and unemployment cannot be ruled out."
But not all came in support of the strike.
"It is not that I will stop going to my local store across the
street. But surely I will welcome the choice of good products at
cheaper price in an much better environment. The traders are also
not doing any charity," said Seema Singh, a homemaker in New
Echoing similar sentiments, Rajesk Lakshman, a businessman in
Mumbai, said: "Whether I want to go to Wal-Mart, Reliance Fresh or
a local kirana store, I as a consumer should be given a choice.
All this is being unnecessarily being politicised."
In fact, two apex corporate lobbies, the Confederation of Indian
Industry (CII) and the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce
and Industry (Ficci), have said organised format accounted for
just four percent share in India's $450 billion retail market.
The chambers also said politics must be kept out of such prudent
Both Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Commerce Minister Anand
Sharma have maintained that the decision, which comes with several
safeguards, will not only secure the small traders but also create
10 million jobs in a matter of just couple of years.
Even organisations representing farmers feel it will benefit them
by removing middlemen.
But the traders said they had the support of Bharatiya Janata
Party (BJP), the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M), the
Swadeshi Jagaran Manch and Bhartiya Mazdoor Sangh, among other
political parties and labour unions.
The two houses of parliament have transacted no business since the
start of the winter session Nov 22 -- the last four of the eight
unproductive days have been on account of the opposition
unrelenting in its demand for roll back in the retail policy.