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Spencer’s strikes a deal

The 36,000-sq-feet Spencer’s store whose inauguration was stalled by Gariahat hawkers on Friday opened its doors on Monday evening after agreeing to a business model that does not compete with street prices.

The deal was struck during negotiations involving the Calcutta Municipal Corporation, unions representing hawkers and officials of the RPG Group, which owns the Spencer’s chain. The inauguration of the three-storeyed store was a low-key affair, with a middle-aged shopper doing the honours.

The vice-chairman of RPG Enterprises, Sanjiv Goenka, was to have cut the ribbon on Friday but was prevented from reaching the store.

A Spencer’s spokesperson said representatives of the hawkers “made some suggestions, which we have agreed to”. He said the store would sell branded apparel with a minimum price tag of Rs 300 and spices in packs of 500 gm and above.

The list of demands handed by the hawkers’ union to Spencer’s contains several more restrictions. For instance, the store can sell perishables like potatoes and onions only in quantities of 6 kg and above. Rice, fruits and vegetables will have to be sold in units of 3 kg and above.

Mayor Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharyya was present when representatives of the hawkers had negotiated with the Spencer’s authorities on Saturday.

Citu, the CPM’s labour wing, rallied around the hawkers. During a three-hour meeting with Bhattacharyya on Monday, state Citu president Shyamal Chakraborty insisted that all the hawkers’ demands be met.

“Our main objective is to protect the interest of small traders and hawkers,” Chakraborty told Metro

But he clarified that Citu would not press for similar curbs on other large-format retail stores or even Spencer’s outlets elsewhere in the city.

“There cannot be a uniform model… These are specific demands with regard to this particular hypermart,” Chakraborty said.

The hypermart on Rashbehari Avenue is near Basanti Devi College.

According to a conservative estimate, over 6,000 hawkers trade in various products — from vegetables and knick-knacks to clothes and electronic gadgets — in the vicinity of the hypermart, which has separate sections for food items, books, electronic gadgets and vegetables. It has a food court, too.

The mayor said he “intervened” because “both sides wanted my involvement”.

“I am happy that they have worked out a middle path,” Bhattacharyya said.

Debasish Kumar, the councillor of ward 85 who had joined hands with the Hawkers’ Sangram Committee, said: “This is a moral victory for all of us. We are happy that the store authorities have agreed to most of our demands.”

He said the decision on whether a review committee with representatives of both sides needed to be formed would be taken after two months. “The Spencer’s authorities have told us that the committee will be formed only if the hawkers are not satisfied with the measures taken by them. We will review the situation after two months.”

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