Reliance bides time on town malls

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By BISWAJIT ROY in Calcutta
  • Published 17.04.07

Calcutta, April 17: Reliance Industries has pushed back plans to set up malls in Bengal towns to avoid any brush with the festering land acquisition controversy.

In a letter to the state agriculture marketing board, chief operating officer Kalyan Sar-angi said the “town centres” were not likely to be commi- ssioned for “18 months from now” as acquisition of private land had become “increasingly difficult” in “the context of recent developments”.

According to the Mukesh Ambani-led group’s proposal, Reliance town centres or RTCs would be “a mix of hyper/su-per markets, convenience stores, entertainment parks, multiplexes and other public utilities”.

A large variety of consumer goods would be available in these malls to be set up in select district headquarters, but the share of fruits and vegetables in the total store space is unlikely to exceed 2 per cent, a proposal submitted today said.

The assurance, made as part of the proposal seeking licence for farm-produce collection centres, is being seen as an attempt to address concerns of the board that the Reliance sourcing units will become virtual mandis.

The mandis in the state are now controlled by the Forward Bloc-run board.

In the proposal, Reliance has mooted 15 farm-produce collection centres in seven districts.

These centres would procure fruits and vegetables and distribute them to Reliance Fresh outlets, most of which would be set up on rented premises in and around Calcutta. These outlets would cover between 2,000 and 5,000 sq ft.

The company, however, assured marketing board chairman Naren Chatterjee that it would not engage farmers in contract farming “in any area of the state, in any format whatsoever”.

Reliance said it was ready to accept the board-determi- ned “minimum support price for procurement of commodi-ties from its producers as it would eventually benefit the farmers”.

Its plan to set up six national distribution-cum-processing centres (NDCs) also remains on track. These are likely to come up in Calcutta, Siliguri, Malda, Haldia, Kharagpur and Asansol.

The company said “no purchase and sale activity” would be carried out through the NDCs. This would ensure that they are not treated as private markets and would not attract the board’s regulatory regime.

Reliance said the process of acquiring land for NDCs was underway and hinted that, unlike for the “town centres”, there was some government support for it.

“We are in the process of procurement of land required for the NDCs through development authorities and other government-owned corporations by taking part in tenders/open bids and observing other formalities,” the letter said.

Marketing board officials said Reliance seemed to have “downsized” its retail project for the time being as its original proposal had mentioned around 80 collection centres.

“Nevertheless, we will seek clarifications from Reliance and go for on-the-spot verification before issuing a licence,” an official said.