West Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya has come out openly against organized food retailers setting up stores in Kolkata as well as organized retailers selling foodgrains. The CM also said that he was opposed to foreign food retailers.
“We are against foreign players in agri retail,” the CM told industry executives at a Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry event here. “We do not need foreigners to sell our vegetables.”
Bhattacharya said that the cash-and-carry arm of Metro AG, which had been allowed entry into the state, was an “experiment”.
The CM, however, clarified that he was not against big Indian organized retailers, but added that “they should not touch foodgrains”.
Bhattacharya also said that the process needs to move carefully as the entry of organized retail will threaten the livelihoods of middlemen operating between the farm and the city as well as effect business at thousands of small markets within the city. “We want them (organized retailers) to set up outlets only outside the city,” he said.
The unexpected comments come at a time when resistance from Left Front government constituents, particularly the Forward Bloc, has already stymied the plans of Reliance Retail Ltd to roll out its agri retail chain Reliance Fresh stores in the state. On earlier occasions, the CM has rebuked his allies for their stand against organized agri retail and the acts of vandalism inflected on Reliance Fresh stores. Bhattacharya was unavailable to elaborate on his comments after the meeting.
“How will the retailers operate without touching food-grains?” asked one state bureaucrat who didn’t want to be named.
Major companies such as the Future Group, ITC Ltd and discount retail chain Subhiksha Trading Services Ltd are all planning to roll out stores in the state.
Rajdeep Datta Roy contributed to this story.