Chandigarh: Even as the opposition NDA combine continues to oppose FDI in retail, one of its constituents appears to be breaking ranks.
Punjab’s Deputy Chief Minister and senior Akali Dal leader Sukhbir Badal is reported to have said that his government could back FDI in multi-brand retail if the Centre manages to address the concerns of farmers and small traders.
“Our opposition is to the way the reform has been forced upon the country by the UPA. If the Centre had not acted as a dictator, we may have welcomed FDI in retail,” Badal junior told The Indian Express.
Sukhbir had backed FDI in retail in the past as well and written to Commerce Minister Anand Sharma last year.
“I did write to the Centre welcoming FDI. But the Government of India should have taken all stakeholders into confidence. The Prime Minister cannot announce a reform just because Wal-Mart wants it,” Badal said. “The decision affects livelihoods of lakhs of small traders who fear they will be wiped out. It is a democratic country and apprehensions of farmers and traders should have been addressed. They should have been provided a cushion. This is not the way to usher in reforms.”
“At the moment we are opposed to it. But if the Centre agrees to address the fears of stakeholders and provide a sense of security to them, then maybe we will change our stand,” he added.
In his letter to Sharma, Sukhbir had written, “We strongly believe that opening FDI in multi-brand retail will bring in the expertise, experience and resources of foreign retailers. A major beneficiary of back-end investments would be farmers... Investments in supply chain infrastructure and stores would also generate hundreds of thousands of employment opportunities for rural and urban youth. An efficient supply chain will also help decrease inflation.”
Even the Punjab Farmers’ Commission has pitched for allowing FDI in retail sector. The Commission, which is the state government’s advisory body on agriculture, believes the move could provide Punjab with an opportunity to look beyond paddy and help improve livelihoods of small farmers.
The Commission is slated to hold a meeting with Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal on October 1 to discuss the new agriculture policy.
Punjab Mandi Board president Ajmer Singh Lakhowal has also spoken in favour of FDI in multi-brand retail, saying it would benefit farmers.
"It will be good for the state, particularly the farmers," said Lakhowal. “Punjab should not miss the opportunity as we lack post-harvest facilities and a food processing industry. Nearly 35 per cent of what we produce goes waste. If farmers can get better prices and consumers cheaper food, why should an agrarian state like Punjab not avail the opportunity.”
It may be noted that US retail giant Wal-Mart already has five stores in Punjab, in partnership with Bharti group.
The franchise operates under the name ‘Best Price’ and continues to thrive in the state, having outlets in Amritsar, Bathinda, Jalandhar, Ludhiana and Zirakpur.