New Delhi, June 6: West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s opposition to foreign direct investment (FDI) in retail attracted an equal and opposite reaction from Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi today.
Gogoi said the Centre should allow FDI in multi-brand retail to states that want to go ahead and sent out a message to dissenting states as well.
“Some states oppose, why don’t you let others go ahead?” Gogoi told reporters, without naming Banerjee, after a meeting with commerce minister Anand Sharma. When asked about opposition from allies, he said allies were not the Congress, which has its own policy. “I urge the Prime Minister for early implementation of this policy,” he added.
Gogoi’s statement comes even as the UPA government seeks support of allies on the crucial issue.
He said states, which want to implement FDI in retail, should not be deprived of this decision, as it would help to improve agricultural economy. He hoped the government would take an early call on the decision.
Banerjee is among the vanguard against FDI in retail, louder in her opposition than even the Left and the BJP. The Trinamul Congress has said that FDI in retail would harm interests of farmers, retailers and small traders. Even after her meeting with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Calcutta last month, Mamata said retail was not discussed although a US press release later said the issue was touched upon.
Besides the Left and the BJP, the BJD and Nitish Kumar’s JDU are also opposed to FDI in retail.
It was because of the opposition by Trinamul Congress that the cabinet decision on 51 per cent FDI in multi-brand retail in November last year was kept in abeyance.
The UPA government is convinced that the move will fetch much-needed foreign capital in a sluggish economy besides hoping to open avenues in the agricultural sector.
Gogoi also decided to beat the opposition with their own stick: federalism. He said this is a federal issue and should be left to the states to decide. Putting on record the Assam government’s appreciation of the cabinet clearance to FDI in multi-brand retail, Gogoi said the agriculture sector would benefit from the move.
“Ours is a federal structure so leave it to us. This (deciding on FDI) is in line with the federal policy,” Gogoi said, repeating an argument that Mamata made in her opposition to NCTC and the Centre’s decision on water-sharing of Teesta with Bangladesh.
“We hope the decision is implemented at the earliest as it will bring in foreign investment, technology, efficiency and generate rural employment to strengthen economy,” Gogoi egged on.
He said because of inadequate infrastructure in the farm sector, farmers were at the mercy of middlemen and did not get true price for produce. Consumers also end up paying many times more than the price secured by the farmer.
For Assam, FDI in retail falls in the scheme of things as the northeastern state’s priorities transit from Eleventh Plan to Twelfth Plan, conceded a senior Assam bureaucrat.
In the Eleventh Plan, Assam focused on production and productivity in agriculture and was adjudged the best state for foodgrain production for 2011-12.
Gogoi had yesterday said that he has targeted a 5.01 per cent growth rate during the Twelfth Plan against a target of 3.82 per cent worked out by the Planning Commission.
During the Twelfth Plan, the state’s major focus, however, will be on markets and linkages, on agro industries and agriculture storage facilities. It is here that FDI in retail is expected to help the target sectors of small industries and agriculture.
Wouldn’t small retailers in Assam be affected adversely by FDI in retail? Gogoi does not think so. He said foreign investment would boost employment opportunities in cold chains and storages and push competition for better quality.
Assam has grown at 8.42 per cent in the last fiscal, when the national average was 6.86, Gogoi said citing Planning Commission figures.