Shopkeepers, hawkers prevent opening of Kolkata mall (Second Lead)

July 4th, 2008 - 10:00 pm ICT by IANS  


Kolkata, July 4 (IANS) The West Bengal government’s efforts to portray an industry-friendly image received a jolt Friday when small shopkeepers and hawkers prevented the inauguration of RPG Enterprises’s retail arm Spencer’s new mall even as the company’s vice chairman Sanjiv Goenka said this protest will not affect their expansion plan. A large group of protesters gathered in front of the hypermarket, located in a busy market zone of south Kolkata, at 10.30 a.m. and raised slogans, laying a virtual siege to the mall entrance.

Goenka came in time for the scheduled inauguration at noon, but left the place on seeing the protesters, who were affiliated to the Hawker Sangram Committee - a federation comprising representatives of most established trade unions.

Shaktiman Ghosh, federation general secretary, said: “We will not let any local or international retailer enter our territory. This will hamper the livelihood of the hundreds of hawkers in this area.”

“We will not let any retailer establish a store within two km of any area where hawker density is high,” he added.

The federation demanded that the retailers not deal in any product sold by the hawkers like grocery, vegetables, fish and milk.

“Now we will carry on this campaign everyday,” said Ghosh.

Goenka said: “There was some agitation by the hawkers. We have to understand what the problem was.”

“We are not in the same product profile. They believe we are going to sell the same goods as they are selling, while we don’t. So there is no conflict,” he added.

He said that Spencer’s would also have products made in Italy, France, the US and the UK besides domestic brands.

On when would the store would become operational, Goenka said: “As of now it has not been opened. But this protest will not affect our expansion plan.”

Incidentally, the company has chalked out a plan to add 350 more stores this fiscal, among which 20 would be in Kolkata.

RPG, in a statement, claimed that Spencer’s did not pose any threat to traditional trade.

“We would like to emphasise that organised retail forms only about 3-4 percent of the total food and grocery retail opportunity in India. This is not a threat to traditional trade,” the statement said.

Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s bid for rapid industrialisation hit a speedbreaker last year when farmers, supported by the opposition parties and intellectuals, foiled the government’s efforts to set up a chemical hub by acquiring farmland at Nandigram in East Midnapore district.

Left Front partners - Forwards Bloc and Revolutionary Socialist Party - have also opposed the industrial policy, specially the takeover of farmland and setting up of organised retail.

Spencer’s, part of the Rs.135 billion RPG group, has products ranging from food, apparel, fashion, electronics, lifestyle products, and music to books.

Spencer’s is targetting Rs.20 billion sales turnover by the end of the current financial year.

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