Mukesh Ambani vs Sunil Bharti Mittal rivalry!

The economic reformers must articulate the benefits of organised retail for farm sector reforms!

The organised retail revolution will come and will succeed. The traditional exploitation of farmers by the age-old money lenders and the traders will end for ever! One has to have the vision to foresee developments in the farm sector. It will help both the producers and the consumers. Better prices for farm produce and low price for consumers. And see the multiple benefits. Air prices, electronic weighing, spot payments and collection at farmers’ gates. May be, the Indian farmers are waiting all these days for this day to come. With no exaggeration we can say this is the real second Green Revolution. This revolution of retail business in agri produce and food products through retail chains.
It is always good news for agriculture that daily news   is about agriculture.
TV news channels these days often play up the protests against some retail chains in UP, Orissa and Maharashtra. The latest seemed to be the one in Mumbai not long ago. Over 20,000 persons gathered  at Azad Maidan to protest against the corporates and foreign chains like Wal-Mart into retail trade in India, more so the agri /food products, groceries etc.
At the centre of this controversy are the Special Economic Zones and also the targeted Reliance subsidiary, Reliance Fresh stores.

The diverse groups that now gather under one umbrella are as far related to each other as one can imagine, there are labourers, small traders and also wholesale merchants. What they don’t have in common is that they all depend upon the agriculture sector and they are middlemen, commission agents and also hawkers, head load workers and others who presently enjoy the monopoly of exploiting the helpless, disorganised farmers who have no choice but rely on these groups for their survival. The village and urban money lenders are also in the category of exploiters all along in this chain of exploitation.
One more contentious issue is the operation of the Agricultural Produce Marketing Committee Act, the new amendments that allow direct buying and selling of farm products by farmers and the retail chains is opposed by the small traders and commission agents.
The umbrella organisation that conducted the Mumbai protest is called the Vyapar Rozgar Suraksha Kriti Samithi, the president of the same is Mohan Gurnani, who is also the president of the Federation of Associations of Maharashtra (FAM).He says: “our demands are simple” We want the amendments to the APM Act cancelled” We don’t want corporates and MNCs in retail trade”.

One leader, Narendra Patil said: “Like the closing down of the Reliance Fresh outlets, a similar action is needed in Maharashtra “The CITU leaders contested the assertion that the farm to fork strategy of (company like Reliance Fresh) is a “myth”!
Now, the opposition to the Reliance French stores seems isolated. Other similar chains, more slammer ones like the Spencer’s and the Subiksha are allowed to function quietly. Why?
The Mumbai protest has certain flavour. On the other hand, in Madhya Pradesh, ruled by the BJP, there is a clear opposition to Reliance Fresh stores only. The Chief Minister Mr.Chouhand, supported by the industry and finance ministers have backed the party’s cell, named “The Vyapar Prakoshta” has  joined together the small traders and others and they have clearly indicated they are against the Reliance company. The six stores planned by the company in Bhopal are now closed.
While in Bengal too the Reliance was targeted and the company had to sack the employees hired already, about 1,000 of them and on the other hand the other big name, Metro Cash & Carry is allowed to carry on its business starting in December 2007.And that too, after a court cleared its operations against the protests of some 225-odd claimants to the 7.5 acres of land on which the new operations would start. The co. also plans to open three more stores, the co. would buy directly from farmers, employ 330 people directly and another 150 indirectly and an investment of Rs.90 crores committed big rural job creating activity by any standard. And that too in Kolkatta with its huge political and economic and social impact!

But then, why only the Reliance is targeted? Jealous? Business rivalry? Yes, it looks like that. Why?
See the industry apex body, the Confederation of Indian Industry(CII) headed by none other than Sunil Bharti Mittal whose own retail business venture, the Bharti-Wal-Mart, funded by the Rothchild is also in the running. Reliance of course did things in style and had a head start while Bharti venture is still to take off. So, there is an industry rumour doing the rounds that the CII has maintained an intriguing silence when the Reliance stores were vandalaised in such a brutal manner in state after state from UP to Bengal to MP and now in Maharashtra.

In UP it is a bizarre situation. Where the farmers welcomed the Reliance retail chain. Farmers clearly see the advantages and the many reasons for welcoming the retail revolution. The middlemen have been the traditional bugbear; they have thrived in exploiting the Indian farmers for ages. The money lender cum middlemen ties up the farmers in bondage and almost makes life hell for the farmers all over the country. It is a long story starting with the founder of the Indian National Congress, W.O.Hume who wanted to redress the farmer’s debts and he started the Congress organisation first of all to free the indebted Indian peasant from the money lenders.
So, the coming of the retail revolution is a godsend, by all accounts.
UP Chief Minister Mayawati did a great harm to Indian farmers, she ordered to close the Reliance stores, 23 of them, and 15 in NCR alone.
It is political rivalry, between the BSP and the Samajwadi party that turns the rivalry now into an industry rivalry as well! Reliance in retaliation sacked 235 contracted employees along with the loss in investments and also benefits to farmers. The counter-retaliation from the farmers would soon come, no doubt!
As for Reliance it hasn’t ceased its collection operations at farmer’s gates and the collected produce would be distributed in other states.
Reliance has invested about Rs.4,000 crores in the state alone
As for the CII silence, it is simply not fair, it is not fair play on the part of CII to keep silent. Nor, the government shows itself in better light by not intervening or taking a principled  position. Sharad Pawar must come out of his cage-like posture!
Organised retail is now a big economic force. It is a 350 billion dollar industry. India is ranked no. one in the AT. Kearney Global Retail Index 2006.Organised retail market would grow to 427 billion dollar  by 2010,to 637 billion by 2015.In the last six months, more than 200 middle and senior management personnel, former employees of MNCs abroad have joined the Indian operations. In the last six months alone!
India is the land of opportunity, in the next decade, says these returning professionals.
Sunil Bharti Mittal himself had recruited some of the top names from the USA and so too Mukesh Amabni. Bharti has announced an investment of 2.5 billion in his retail foray.
The point is that rivalry or no rivalry, retail revolution is here and on! The central government has also allowed the APMC Act and also allowed the setting up of private mandis, the terminal markets to enable the private companies to deal with farmers directly, with all modern facilities, like electronic auction system, cold chains, logistics etc.
May be the  organised retail  business could break the backbone of the traditional exploitation of the farmers by the traders and the money lenders.

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