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Organized retail’s underbelly exposes missing responsibility

Organized retail’s underbelly exposes missing responsibility
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First Published: Thu, Apr 24 2008. 10 17 PM IST

Growing problem: A file photo of garbage outside a Reliance Fresh store in Pune. (Sudha Menon/Mint)
Growing problem: A file photo of garbage outside a Reliance Fresh store in Pune. (Sudha Menon/Mint)
Updated: Thu, Apr 24 2008. 10 17 PM IST
Pune/New Delhi: Suresh Japtap is a troubled man. The zonal deputy municipal commissioner in charge of solid waste management at Pune has been receiving an increasing number of complaints about garbage.
The complaints don’t bother Japtap—garbage is his business. Their number, however, does. As does the larger cause behind Pune’s sudden problem with garbage.
Organized retail, also called modern retail, would appear to be the problem. People across the city have been complaining about retailers dumping garbage on the streets, even outside their homes.
Meanwhile, in New Delhi, the municipal corporation’s mobile litter detection squad, a sort of roving patrol to address the garbage issue, has its hands full, with owners of organized retail stores who, despite warnings and fines, refusing to clean up their act.
Growing problem: A file photo of garbage outside a Reliance Fresh store in Pune. (Sudha Menon/Mint)
As India’s love-hate relationship with modern retail evolves—consumers love it; small store owners hate it because they see it as a threat to their livelihood; and governments are still trying to cope with it—the country is seeing, for the first time, the business’ sloppy underbelly. Sure, organized retail means huge investments, sometimes running into thousands of crores, by companies; and low prices; and convenience; but it also means waste dumped outside residences and an unwillingness on the part of retailers to own up that disposing garbage is their responsibility.
As organized retail grows across the country, from $12 billion of India’s annual $300 billion retail business now to more than $100 billion of the overall $637 billion retail market by 2015, the problem is likely to get worse in all parts, from Coimbatore to Cuttack, Jaipur to Jamshedpur, and Bangalore to Bareilly.
In Pune, after several complaints by residents against a Reliance Fresh outlet at Mukundnagar, a team from the municipal corporation’s solid waste management department visited the area and found that the store was, in fact, dumping large amounts of waste, including rotting vegetables, fruits and even dairy products outside their store.
Alarmed at the prospect of having to deal with an increasing number of such situations in future, Jagtap’s department summoned a meeting of all retailers who have set up shop in the city, to try and resolve what otherwise promises to snowball into a face-off between citizens and the retailers, with the municipal administration caught in between. “I was disappointed by the response of the retailers. They showed very little interest in trying to resolve the issue,” Jagtap says.
“Garbage is not our responsibility. You can’t expect us to do that (clear garbage),” a manager of a Reliance Fresh store recently told residents of an apartment complex, at the gates of which this store in Pune has come up.
Reliance Retail executives said that under existing regulations of the Pune municipal corporation, garbage collection from commercial buildings that have come up in the city after 2005, is the responsibility of the builders and tenants. “We have a robust system of garbage collection and have our garbage picked up by a private collection service to dump in the common municipal dumping ground,” Prasad Dixit, head, Maharashtra operations, Reliance Retail, said. He admitted that there were gaps in the system: “It is not real time collection of garbage and since it is fresh produce that we sell, the garbage is likely to be visible for some time”.
However, the company was quick to clear up the mess outside the Reliance Fresh store at Pune, after Mint brought this to its notice. Reliance does have large industrial-size bins to store garbage, but at least at this store, the garbage was dumped in bags in the open.
The endemic nature of the problem is evident from tabs kept by the New Delhi municipal corporation on “garbage offenders”. Among the common ones are Subhiksha (16 offences), Reliance Fresh (12), 6Ten (14), and Big Apple (10). All offences were committed in the past three months and only in the Capital’s central zone says the area’s sanitation superintendent Ved Prakash Sharma. Fines for first time offence is Rs200, but the magistrates can use their discretion and impose fines ranging from Rs500-2,000 for repeat offenders. The central zone, where all the littering incidents have occurred, has 28 wards and has four magistrates and 16 inspectors who make four surprise visits to each ward a month, Sharma adds.
There is, however, a larger issue: no one wants to own the garbage.
The Pune Municipal Corporation, for instance, insists that garbage generated by these retailers can’t be their responsibility. “Our infrastructure is already over-burdened and we want these companies to be responsible for the waste they generate,” Japgtap says.
The corporation is currently working on a new set of regulations that will make it mandatory for retailers to process the waste generated by them—on location. Jagtap is soon scheduled to summon another meeting with retailers. “We are ready to provide them with guidance and know-how on processing wet waste at their location and show them options such as vermiculture, vermi-composting and where possible, even (how they can generate) bio-gas out of the waste,” Jagtap says. The civic body has sought the involvement of the rag pickers association that coordinates with retailers to collect dry waste such as packaging.
As retail continues its relentless growth in the city, a new set of regulations also make it mandatory for buildings which will house these large format and hyper stores to be designed with garbage chutes which will collect and process the garbage on location. Reliance’s large format Mart brand, a 50,000sq. ft store opening at Kharadi in the outskirts of Pune, is housed in such a building.
The response of retailers ranges from concern for their immediate surroundings to simply claiming that garbage is someone else’s problem.
A Pantaloon Retail India Ltd manager in New Delhi area says the company makes “provision for room” for dumping garbage in every hypermarket and supermarket. “We create a room (for dumping waste) depending on the size of the store,” he adds.
The company dumps waste in the room at night; the next morning, garbage is loaded on to a dump truck. The company pays for this service, says the manager, asking not to be named as he is not authorized to speak to media.
Sadashiv Nayak, chief executive officer, Food Bazaar, Pantaloon Retail India Ltd, says, “We are involved very marginally in dealing with waste. We have vendors who are adept at this who deal with their waste. For fruit and vegetable, vendors set up shop-in-shops with us. It is their responsibility to dispose off their waste in accordance with municipal norms and they are adept at it… We believe there are people who can do this (garbage disposal) better than us and we fall back on them.”
Pushpamitra Das, CEO, Spinach, adds, “For our non-vegetarian waste, we mix sand in it and dump in municipal yards. For our FMCG products, we bring them back, treat as required and dump them in special municipal dump yards. Our fruit and vegetable waste is thrown at municipal counters. We do not sell any of our waste. Instead we dispose off everything ourselves.”
Waste disposal is an issue retailers will have to address as they grow their businesses, a consultant says.
Satish Moorjani, vice-president at Bristlecone Consulting Services, which advises companies on supply chain issues says systems to manage waste are still “nascent,” in India. He says retailers need to go all the way back in their supply chain to minimize wastage at every step. This, Moorjani adds, will help retailers sell more and earn more.
It will also help them avoid run-ins with the municipality.
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First Published: Thu, Apr 24 2008. 10 17 PM IST