The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Reliance sacks 400 in Bengal

Calcutta, Sept. 29: Reliance Retail today sacked 400 staff in Bengal a month after violent political protests stalled its plans to launch farm product stores in the state.

The company, which was to open 15 Reliance Fresh stores in and around Calcutta starting from July-August, had hired these young employees to manage the shop floors.

Bengal is the second state after Uttar Pradesh where Reliance Retail has laid off staff. Industry sources said the move might be a pressure tactic by the company, disappointed in its Bengal ambitions despite support from the highest levels of the government.

“The company is not walking out of the state as of now. It acknowledges the support of the government. But it cannot continue to bear losses for a long time,” a source said.

Company officials declined comment. The Telegraph, however, has a copy of one of the sack letters.

“We are unable to operate/open our stores due to uncertain business situation…. In view of the above, we no longer require your service…” the letter reads.

Bikash Sil, 28, a sacked employee, was to man Reliance’s Sodepur branch. He joined the company earlier this year — the starting salary for store staff is Rs 3,500 — and underwent training.

Sil doesn’t blame the company. “The political parties and the government are to blame,” he said.

Left Front partner Forward Bloc’s supporters had stoned an upcoming Reliance Fresh store at north Calcutta’s Girish Park last month.

The BJP later attacked the same building while the Trinamul Congress ransacked another in Uttarpara.

Chief secretary Amit Kiran Deb offered the company protection, but the state government’s support didn’t prevent local CPM branches from trying to interfere in recruitment, sources said.

Reliance chairman Mukesh Ambani had met chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee last year with an offer to invest Rs 2,000 crore in farm product retail. But the company could not start operations or sign procurement deals with farmers because of fierce opposition from the Bloc, which runs the state agricultural ministry.

Bloc state secretariat member Hafiz Ali Sairani said, “It’s sad that 400 youths have lost their jobs but we will not stop our movement against the company.”

Fellow front partner RSP’s Manoj Bhattacharya said, “The sackings are nothing but pressure tactics. We will not allow the company to carry on its farm product retail business here.”

Reliance Retail has signalled it will go slow in Bengal until the political issues are settled.

“A retail store cannot run with police protection,” a source said.

After indefinitely putting off the launch, the company has stopped procuring fruits and vegetables, prompting a protest by some farmers who said Reliance’s entry had benefited them.

Reliance has faced protests and attacks in Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa and Uttar Pradesh, too.

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