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Since 1st March, 1999
 
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Reliance finds farmer voice

Calcutta, Aug. 30: A group of farmers today hit the streets demanding Reliance resume farm product purchases that gave them higher prices, handing the company a public relations harvest in the middle of a controversy over its retail foray.

Holding placards that read “Jago chashi jago, nijer katha bhabo (farmers, wake up to protect your interests),” around 200 villagers blocked a road in Nadia, 60km from Calcutta, for an hour.

The unusual protest was triggered by the closure of a procurement centre from which Reliance used to source farm products for supply outside the state. The company put off procurements from Bengal after upcoming Reliance Fresh outlets were vandalised.

Around 100 farmers in Nadia were selling fruits and vegetables to the procurement centre — direct purchase by big investors is not allowed — for the past 10 months at a premium over the market price.

“We were selling papaya at Rs 6 a kilo when the market price was Rs 4,” Anwar Hussein said.

His words lend credence to what Reliance has been claiming: farmers stand to benefit from its business model.

The company has been buying about 4 to 5 tonnes of fruits and vegetables a day intermittently to feed its retail network in the country.

Reliance had bought 8 to 10 tonnes of lichees from Murshidabad and Nadia in summer. Farmers got 50 paise for each lichee, compared with the market price of 37 paise, sources said. For mangoes, the company paid 25 per cent more, they added.

“My income grew substantially. But now I have to go back to the local market and sell cheap,” Ranjit Mondal, a farmer, said.

The CPM, which is locked in a feud with the Forward Bloc that has been opposing the Reliance retail entry, denied any hand but it was quick to term the demonstration a “path-breaking” event.

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