The all-party meeting convened by the West Bengal chief minister on 3 September will discuss scaling back of retailers such as Reliance Retail Ltd in the state.
The meeting was meant to mostly discuss?land?acquisition for industrial use. The shift in agenda suggests that problems with agri retail are on the government’s frontburner.
Opposition to opening up agri retail to the private sector by Forward Bloc, a constituent of the Left Front government which runs West Bengal’s agri marketing department, is holding up not just the Rs2,000 crore rollout of Reliance Retail plans, but also a slew of projects the state’s food processing and horticulture department has drawn up involving private players.
Subhiksha Trading Services MD R. Subramanian says his company would prefer to procure products directly from farmers
On the cards is a Rs200 crore proposal to set up three terminal markets in public-private partnership. The department is also pushing for private investments in several cold chains. Stores of organized retailers have been attacked and vandalized in recent weeks amid concerns that big players will take away the livelihood of scores of small shopkeepers.
The state government is also in the process of amending the Agricultural Produce Marketing (Regulation) Act that will not only give the organized retailer direct access to farmers, but also open the road for contract farming.
Direct access to farm products is critical to organized retailers in sustaining a reasonable margin in the sale of fresh products.
ITC Ltd, which drew up Rs1,250 crore investment plans in West Bengal in various sectors including agri retail, has decided to wait till the coming of the public-private partnership terminal markets to roll out its operations in the state.
The Future Group has been expanding its food retail chain Food Bazaar, but is yet to launch the cash-and-carry business it had planned to kick off from the state.
A complex, including a selling space of more than 100,000 sq. ft, is coming up at Burdwan, more than 150km north-west of Kolkata. This project was to take off in the middle of this year, but is now expected to start in early 2008, says Damodar Mall, head of new businesses at Pantaloon Retail (India) Ltd.
Subhiksha Trading Services Ltd, country’s largest chain of discount stores, plans to roll out with about 100 stores in Kolkata by the end of this calendar year. It proposes to invest about Rs120 crore in this market up to June next year.
“We would prefer to procure our products directly from the farmers,” says R. Subramanian, managing director of the Chennai-based company.