Buddhadeb for Metro Cash & Carry licence, Forward Bloc protests (Lead)

September 27th, 2008 - 1:37 am ICT by IANS  

Kolkata, Sep 27 (IANS) West Bengal’s ruling Left Front plunged into fresh crisis Friday night with alliance member Forward Bloc saying its ministers would not attend the state secretariat from Monday to protest Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s order to renew the license of German firm Metro Cash and Carry.The Bloc’s ire stemmed from a letter from Chief Secretary Amit Kiran Deb to the district magistrate of South 24 Parganas at the instruction of Bhattacharjee that the wholesale major be given a renewed licence to do business in the state. The Forward Bloc, which holds the portfolios of agriculture and agricultural marketing in the state, had earlier Friday decided not to renew the license.

Slamming the chief minister’s instruction, Bloc state secretary Ashok Ghosh said: “Protesting this attitude of CPI-M, our ministers will abstain from going to the Writers’ Building (state secretariat) from Monday. We will continue this till the chief minister withdraws his instruction.”

Ghosh also threatened that the Bloc may even leave the ministry if the issue was not resolved soon.

The Forward Bloc is scheduled to meet the CPI-M Sep 28 to decide on the renewal of the APMC (Agricultural Produce Marketing Committee) licence for the German company.

The Bloc has been opposing the entry of large corporate houses in retail trade and has expressed apprehension that Metro Cash & Carry could shift to retail business after getting a foothold in the state through wholesale trade.

The company had Wednesday held a meeting with the chief minister and said it would wait till Monday before deciding whether it would move out of the state.

Asked whether the party would now sit for talks with the CPI-M, Ghosh said: “We don’t think there is any need for talks till the CPI-M withdraws the letter they have issued.”

While announcing their decision against renewing licence to the German firm, Ghosh had said: “Our party has decided unanimously not to renew the APMC licence for Metro Cash & Carry. We will not allow any big investor, both Indian or foreign, to eat up the space of small and poor farmers and the intermediaries,” Ghosh said.

While Naren De of the Forward Bloc is the minister for agriculture and agricultural marketing, another party leader Naren Chatterjee heads the Agriculture Marketing Board, which issues the licence.

The Bloc has four members in the Bhattacharjee ministry.

The Bloc’s aggressive posture has come at a time when the CPI-M led Left Front government has been in a soup on the Nano land issue, with Tata Motors signalling an imminent pull-out of its small car facility from Singur after having suspended operations in the plant since Sep 2.

The government had been touting the Nano project as the beginning of the industrial resurgence of the state after years of drought in attracting big investments in the manufacturing sector.

Metro Cash & Carry started constructing a 100,000 sq ft outlet for an investment of $30 million in the southeast of the city a couple of years back. The entire project got delayed due to land disputes.

It was granted a licence to trade in APMC commodities in 2005, which was subsequently renewed twice in 2006 and 2007 to be valid till March 2008. However, in June 2007 the said licence was unilaterally withdrawn by APMC authorities. The company filed for issuance of fresh APMC licence in March 2008 and is still awaiting the same.

The German major already has four stores in India - two in Bangalore, one each in Hyderabad and Mumbai and is partnered by various small and medium businesses like kirana stores, hotels and restaurants.

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