Kolkata: Hawkers—who sell their wares on the streets of the city—held up the launch of a Spencer’s store in south Kolkata on Friday, fearing a threat to their livelihoods.
Hundreds of these small vendors said they would vandalize the store—part of city-based conglomerate RPG Enterprises’ retail venture that already has 400 outlets across the country—if it was opened.
The agitation added to the state government’s embarrassment when two constituents of the ruling Left Front—Forward Bloc and Revolutionary Socialist Party, or RSP—said they supported the hawkers’ action.
The protest comes at a time when other organized retailers such as Reliance Retail Ltd and Metro Cash and Carry India Pvt. Ltd prepare to open stores in the city.
The 36,000 sq. ft Spencer’s store is RPG’s second biggest retail outlet in the city. Sanjiv Goenka, vice-chairman of RPG, who had come to inaugurate the store, left without attempting to enter it. Many guests who had already entered the store were confined inside for several hours as vendors laid siege.
The hawkers, led by Shaktiman Ghosh, general secretary of Hawkers’ Sangram Committee, said they have the support of 6,000 members and all major trade unions except the Centre for Indian Trade Unions, or Citu, an arm of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) that leads the Left Front government in the state.
“The demonstration was orchestrated by misinformed parties with vested interests,” Spencer’s said in a statement.
Later, a Spencer’s spokesperson said the company was hopeful of opening the store within a couple of days. She said Spencer’s officials are talking with the agitators, and the company was willing consider their demand for employing some local hawkers.
Ghosh, leader of the agitating hawkers, said, “We feel threatened by players such as Spencer’s and Reliance which, if allowed to operate, would eventually drive us from the market.” Forward Bloc leader and chairman of the state’s agricultural marketing board, Naren Chatterjee, said all Left trade unions, except the Citu, had resolved to protest the expansion of large format retailers across the country.
RSP leader and member of Parliament Manoj Bhattacharya said, “We can’t allow large corporate houses to create monopolies in retailing”.
Romita Datta contributed to this story.