In what is being billed as a first nationwide protest against emerging, branded retail chains, especially grocery chains, malls and chain stores across most major Indian cities will be targeted by protesters on one day in January, say organizers.
The protest, dubbed halla bol, or “raise your voices”, will be followed by an attempt at a broader, national bandh, or strike, in mid-February, if the organizers have their way.
“So far, there was a sense that these protests are spontaneous,” said Dharamendra Kumar, campaign coordinator for India FDI Watch, a self-professed anti big-retail organization. “We want to send the message that somewhere there is unity and coordination among all of us. So we will all protest in front of malls in most big cities, on one day.”
The protest is planned for about 30 cities with protesters demonstrating in front of at least one chain store in each city. In February, the protesters want to organize a trade strike, where all shops will be closed nationally on one day.
The halla bol protest will likely be on 10, 12 or 26 January, say organizers who plan to finalize the date in December. The national bandh will be either on 23 or 25 February.
Raging backlash: A file picture of a protest against organized retail in Lakshmi Nagar, East Delhi
The protesters plan to call for all businesses to be closed in most big cities that day but claim they will not stop public transport or disrupt traffic.
Though organized retail forms just 4% of India’s $330 billion (Rs13 trillion) retail industry, it could grow to 16% by 2012, according to an estimate by Technopak, a New Delhi-based management consulting company.
Those who worry about what this will do to the livelihoods of small retailers and their employees have mounted protests in recent months against new, branded retailers such as Reliance Fresh, the store brand of the retail venture of Reliance Industries Ltd. Until now, any relatively large protest rallies have only been in New Delhi and Mumbai, with small and sometimes violent outbursts in smaller cities and towns.
In November, there have already been protests outside a Metro Cash and Carry store operated by Metro AG, the German retail giant, in Bangalore, and a bandh in Bhubaneswar. Some protests in West Bengal are scheduled for 30 November.
Taraknath Trivedi, general secretary of the Federation of Traders’ Organizations, says: “We don’t want the government to allow them (Reliance) a back door entry or allow any other corporate retail here (in West Bengal).”
Meanwhile, retail continues to attract companies. On Tuesday, French retail chain Carrefour SA announced plans to set up a chain of cash and carry wholesale stores and hypermarkets, following on the heels of its larger global rival Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.
“Even as the share of organized retail will increase by 2012, a huge share of the retail market will remain with unorganized retailers,” Akshay Chaturvedi, principal consultant at Technopak, said. “We expect both organized and unorganized (retail) to grow.
“Whoever offers a good value proposition will do better. Just being modern trade will not help.”