Thousands protest against entry of WalMart and other western style stores in India

November 14th, 2007 - 2:00 am ICT by admin  
The protests were the biggest yet against the ambitions of foreign and local companies to introduce Western-style supermarkets into a fragmented 350 billion dollar market expected to double in size by 2015.

The protests reflect wider social tensions in India, where traders are attempting to fight off new retail competition by frequently oppose privatenvestment. Villagers are said to be extremely worried about their land being taken away from them for the purpose of building multinationalactories.

Farmers wearing traditional long white shirts and white caps marched in long processions waving posters with slogans like “It’s now or never. Wal-Mart quit India.”

“The Government is contemplating opening FDI (Foreign Direct Investment) in the retail trade and is also opening the economy to a great extent. Large companies are going to enter the retail sector. Small retailers would be out of business. To protest this, we are out here” said Banwari Lal Kanchan, the President, Vyapari Mandal (Traders Association), Maharashtra.

Past demonstrations had failed to attract large numbers, but retail opponents have managed to force Reliance Industries, India’s biggest listed company, to lay off 1,000 staff and close stores after protests in north and east India.

Reliance Retail, a subsidiary of Reliance Industries, plans to invest over 5.5 billion dollars in its venture.

Protesters also fear that Wal-Mart is trying to enter the Indian retail sector through the back door after it signed a wholesale venture with India’s Bharti Enterprises. Currently foreign multi brand retail stores are not allowed in India.

Protesters said they hope the government will take their concerns intoconsideration.

“On January 10 or 11, we are planning a nation wide protest against this decision of the government to allow FDI in retail business. We are sure that the government will cooperate and will come up with a Shopping Mall Regulation Act as soon as possible,” said Mohan Gurnani, the President Federation of Association of Maharastra.

Foreign retail giants Carrefour and Tesco have also shelved investment plans due to the prevailing uncertainty.

Large companies still account for only three percent of India’s retail market.

Protests have focused on Reliance partly because its size and brand name in India make it an easy target. Some other local retailers, such as Spencers,operate dozens of stores in India without facing so many protests.

“The government should understand our plight and pay attention. A lot of workers have been displaced and more will be displaced if action is not taken at the earliest. Government should make arrangements to get all of them back,” said Gulab Patil, Director, Agriculture Produce Marketing Committee (APMC) in Pune.

Retailers fear protests could snowball in India as politicians feel it could win them votes, especially with talk of a snap general election nextear.

Those against private retail say 40 million jobs will be lost, against the two million that modern retail promises to create. (ANI)

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