Kolkata: After waiting for almost a year because of political resistance to its entry, Reliance Retail Ltd, a subsidiary of Mukesh Ambani-controlled Reliance Industries Ltd, is set to launch its stores in West Bengal in about a month.
“We should be there, hopefully, in the next four weeks,” said Reliance Retail’s chief executive Raghu Pillai. “We’ll launch in Kolkata first.”
Expanding base: A Reliance Fresh store in Jhandewalan in Delhi. The firm couldn’t launch the stores in the state last year because of resistance from the Forward Bloc, but has continued to acquire properties. (Photo: Ramesh Pathania/Mint)
Reliance couldn’t launch its retail business in West Bengal last year because of resistance from the Forward Bloc, which is part of the ruling Left Front and controls the agriculture ministry. The Forward Bloc, which runs the state’s agricultural marketing board, wouldn’t let Reliance source farm products from rural wholesale markets.
In August, Forward Bloc supporters vandalized two outlets when Reliance tried to launch its retail business in the state. The Forward Bloc defended the action, saying Reliance’s entry would kill small retailers.
“We are doing a legitimate business, and there are so many others doing the same business. So why should people try to stop Reliance alone from entering Bengal. I appreciate there’s some anxiety, but such things happen all over the world. We’ll have to address it,” said Pillai.
Though it didn’t manage to launch its stores in West Bengal, Reliance has been sourcing farm products such as potatoes from the state, said a Reliance Retail official, who didn’t want to be named.
Despite having to abort the launch, Reliance, which is looking to launch more than 100 stores in West Bengal, continued to acquire properties across the state.
Three properties in north Bengal have recently been leased out to it by the transport department, run by the ruling Communist Party of India (Marxist).
The North Bengal State Transport Corporation has leased three properties—two measuring around one acre each in Behrampore and Jalpaiguri and the third, three acres, in Siliguri, for 999 years. Reliance Retail paid a lease premium of Rs7.5 crore for the Siliguri property, Rs2.15 crore and Rs2.5 crore, respectively, for the one-acre properties in Behrampore and Jalpaiguri.
“They (Reliance Retail) were the highest bidder. I don’t know what they are going to do with the properties, but there can’t be any controversy over this deal,” transport minister Subhas Chakraborty said.
Still, the Forward Bloc is upset because a majority of cabinet ministers in the state were kept in the dark.
Forward Block leader and chairman of the state’s agricultural marketing board Naren Chatterjee said, “The government isn’t run by a single party. They (the CPM) cannot take such unilateral decisions without seeking political consensus.”
The Forward Bloc would continue to oppose Reliance’s foray into the state, he added.
Last year, the Forward Bloc had also opposed the Kolkata Municipal Corporation’s decision to lease out the Park Circus market in Kolkata to Reliance Retail. But the company had emerged the highest bidder for that property as well.
Commerce and industries minister Nirupam Sen has been saying that his government wanted Reliance Retail to roll out its retail business in the state, and that the CPM was trying to convince the Forward Bloc, its partner, to allow the company to launch its stores here.