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Gogoi federal googly

- Tables turned on Mamata on retail FDI

New Delhi, June 6: A Congress chief minister has turned the federalism table on Mamata Banerjee on foreign direct investment in retail without mentioning her name.

“Ours is a federal structure. So, leave it to us. This (deciding on FDI) is in line with the federal policy,” Tarun Gogoi, Assam chief minister, told reporters in Delhi after meeting commerce minister Anand Sharma who has revived an effort to notify the cabinet clearance to FDI in multi-brand retail.

The notification has been kept in abeyance after Mamata put her foot down, citing the interests of farmers and small traders, although farmers’ organisations had welcomed the Union cabinet’s decision.

The crux of Gogoi’s argument reflects what the Centre has been saying: let each state decide what it wants; a policy decision should not be held hostage to the wishes of some chief ministers.

“Some states oppose, why don’t you let the others go ahead?” Gogoi asked. “Those states who want should not be deprived of this decision as it will help in improving the agri-economy. We hope that the government will take an early decision on this.”

He added: “I urge the Prime Minister for early implementation of this policy. This decision holds significance in unlocking the true potential of our agrarian economy as in the absence of adequate logistics and infrastructure, a larger part of farm produce never reaches the market.”

In any case, each state is already empowered to block or regulate investments into retail because a host of state-level clearances are needed for such a business to take off.

Gogoi’s statement coincided with an initiative by the Centre to breathe some life into the reforms process, which has made Trinamul wary. Some steps have been taken — the latest being a series of decisions on infrastructure at a meeting chaired by the Prime Minister and skipped by Trinamul cabinet minister Mukul Roy. The Centre is also hoping to take up the pension bill.

By referring to “federalism”, Gogoi has taken a leaf from Mamata’s own book —she had opposed the national counter terrorism centre and the Teesta water treaty citing the same principle.

Gogoi said that because of inadequate infrastructure, farmers were at the mercy of middlemen and were not getting the true price for produce. Consumers also end up paying many times more than the price secured by the farmer.

The stand of Gogoi, who has been returned to power for the third time in Assam, cannot be dismissed as one that suits his party. For Assam, FDI in retail holds much significance.

In the 11th Plan, Assam focused on production and productivity in agriculture and was adjudged the best state for foodgrain output for 2011-12.

During the ongoing 12th Plan period, the state’s focus will shift to markets and linkages that include storage facilities for farm produce. If permitted, FDI in retail is expected to benefit the state on this count.

Wouldn’t small retailers in Assam be affected adversely by FDI in retail?

Gogoi did not think so. The chief minister said foreign investment would only boost employment opportunities in cold chains and storage and push competition for better quality.