The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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State paves path for retail raj

Pantaloons, MusicWorld and Raymond have already redefined retail parameters here. Majors like Shoppers’ Stop and The Home Store are at our doorstep. A host of others are queuing up to hop on to the bazaar bandwagon. The mood has been buoyant for a while, the whys and whats were rattled off on Wednesday at the largest retail meet the city has seen.

A simple statistic thrown up by the Confederation of Indian Industry’s (CII) national committee on retailing summed it up — Calcutta is billed to reach a million square feet of built retail space by 2004. A three-fold jump and more in 24 months.

“What was just a trickle in the first quarter of 2000 is now a full-fledged wave. Retail majors have now realised that the market in Calcutta and its satellite mini-metros is even larger than they had anticipated,” said Anuj Puri, member, CII’s national retailing panel. The managing director of international property consulting leader Chesterton Meghraj added that “30 per cent” of its retail agency revenue now comes from Calcutta.

CII Eastern Region is hosting Retail 2002, a two-day summit in the city, aimed at networking investors, franchisers and retailers. With the biggest players of the retail sector in attendance, the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government has been quick to ride the retail wave. “Tell us where the shoe pinches and we will look into the matter,” said state industry minister Nirupam Sen.

He took the first step by promising to review the tax structure, when realtors and consultants pointed out that the “exorbitant” 56 per cent property tax in West Bengal was a “big deterrent” to retail business. “We can’t afford to levy taxes at higher rates compared to other states in this era of cut-throat competition,” the minister admitted, before pledging “better infrastructure, including parking”, to facilitate the growth of a sector identified as a thrust area by consulting major McKinsey.

Sen even said the government would consider formulating a “specialised retail policy” on the lines of its biotech and ITES (information technology enabled services) guidelines, and assured all those interested in setting up shop in Bengal that any labour-related problem would be looked into. “Wherever necessary, the government will intervene to break a deadlock,” he added.

Pushing the government pitch forward, West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation (WBIDC) executive director Atri Bhattacharya harped on Bengal having one-tenth of the national market, with “core strengths” like low rentals, a concentrated and literate population, high disposable incomes and clear backward linkages.

“We know that the Calcutta consumer is both aware and sensitive. You create the expectations and we promise to deliver,” said Shoppers’ Stop managing director and CEO B.S. Nagesh. Shoppers’ will be the 60,000 sq ft anchor in Forum, the lifestyle mall on Elgin Road, which opens in January. Arif Sheikh, president, Home Stores (India) Lt – a Rs 639-crore-turnover lifestyle store chain — is equally excited about his Calcutta foray: “We will bring in an absolutely exclusive shopping experience to this city, which is now ready for the best in retail.”

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