The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Reliance downsizes retail plan
- Field-to-food plate project reduced to three tiers and only seven districts

Calcutta, April 20: Reliance Industries has whittled down plans for a 1,480-acre farm retail project spanning Bengal after the original proposal ran into resistance from allies of the ruling CPM and a section of the party.

The Mukesh Ambani-led company, which last June wanted the government as a “partner/catalyst” in the venture, has now trimmed its Rs 2,000-crore, eight-tier proposal that would have taken care of farm production from the field to the food-plate to a three-tier, seven-district scheme.

In its letter to the Forward Bloc-controlled state marketing board, the company didn’t specify the area it needs for the revised project and only sought licence to buy directly from farmers and sell through its chain of fresh-food retail stores.

But the board is in no mood yet to give the go-ahead.

“Despite the changes in the Reliance proposal, there is still the threat of corporate monopoly in agri-business at the expense of farmers and retailers,” Bloc state secretary Ashok Ghosh said.

In its earlier proposal — after a meeting between chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and Ambani — Reliance said it needed 800 acres for 80 procurement hubs; 500 acres for five distribution centres in Calcutta, Siliguri, Asansol, Malda and Kharagpur, and 180 acres for 18 district headquarters with the two Midnapores clubbed together.

Now, it has proposed 15 collection centres in seven districts — four in North 24-Parganas, three in South 24-Parganas, two each in Burdwan, Hooghly and Nadia, and one each in Bankura and Murshidabad. The “locations”, the company said, will be owned by individuals, marketing cooperatives and municipalities.

The earlier eight-tier project envisaged collection centres at the bottom to “receive products from farmers”. At the top, retail outlets were to provide fresh food — from the farm-gate to the plate.

In between, farmers could benefit from infrastructure services like mechanical and biotechnological help, sale of agricultural inputs like seeds and fertilisers as well as credit and insurance management.

Packaging and processing houses and distribution centres were to provide cold storage, value-addition infrastructure and ensure “efficient flow” of goods to local, national and foreign markets. These are still on track, but have been clubbed under a new nomenclature — “national distribution-cum-processing centres”.

Haldia has been added to the list of five distribution outlets. The company said it is “in the process” of procuring land for these centres.

The earlier plan also envisaged “contact farming” or “demand-led production”. But the Bloc-run marketing board and other front allies like the RSP and the CPI frowned as it sounded suspiciously close to “contract farming”, which they consider an instrument of corporate monopoly in agriculture. This time, Reliance has said it wouldn’t engage farmers in “contract farming in any format whatsoever”.

Earlier, one of the company’s “strategic missions” was to extend the rural retail network “supporting more than 10,000 small village shops”. As the Left found it a ploy to grab the village retail market, Reliance has now dropped the plan.

Last time, the company did not specify the number of proposed Reliance Town Centres, a sprawling mix of malls, multiplexes, entertainment parks and retail stores. This time, it has decided to go slow on the centres as “acquisition of land” has become “increasingly difficult”.

A “few Reliance Fresh outlets” would, however, come up in and around Calcutta.

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