27 August 2007. A World to Win News Service. The US-headquartered retailing giant Wal-Mart signed an unprecedented agreement with an Indian partner to begin operations in that country 6 August. The move heralds big changes in agricultural and industrial production as well as distribution. It will accelerate the economic and social changes sweeping India as imperialist monopoly capital and domestic monopoly capital enter into new alliances and configurations. The UK supermarket chain Tesco, France’s Carrefour and Auchan, and Germany’s Metro are all eyeing India. The Wall-Mart Bharti chain, the first of its kind in India, is expected to open next year
The following slightly abridged article entitled “The Wholesale of Retail” by George Joseph, was published in the July 2007 issue of the Indian Maoist magazine The New Wave.
Finally, the international monster retailer from the US – Wal-Mart – is entering the Indian retail sector, though not through the front door. Wal-Mart has made a tie up with Bharti Enterprises and launched Bharti Retail in order to enter into the foray of retail business in the country. As the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government has not yet formally given the nod for the entry of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in retail, Wal-Mart took the option of a back door entry. In February, Bharti Enterprises formally unveiled its road map for its retail business in India. With a plan to open its first retail outlet by 15 August 2008 (Indian independence day – how patriotic they are!), it is investing around US$2.5 exclusively for front-end stores in the retail business. This is with an aim of making revenue of $4.5 billion out of this business by 2015! They are planning to set up a number of hypermarkets and supermarkets across the country. It is said that in the beginning Bharti Retail would manage the front-end and Wal-Mart would be involved in the back-end that is, the procurement, logistics and supply chain. The plan behind this tie up is very clear. When the government opens up the retail sector for FDI, Wal-Mart can very easily come to the front-end of the retail business and become the monopoly. By that time it would be able to spread its retail chain across the country through Bharti Retail. Ever since Prime Minister Manmohan Singh announced in 2004 that, his government was considering to permit FDI in the retail sector and following him, Finance Minister P. Chidambaram made another statement along the same lines while making the mid year review for 2004-05, it became one of the hottest topics of debate – whether FDI should be allowed in retail sector or not? But it is interesting to note what Finance Minister said then. He said, “On retail, the review notes that creating an effective supply chain from the producer to the consumer is critical for development of many sectors, particularly processed and semi-processed agro-products. In this context, it says, the role that could be played by organised retail chains, including international ones merits careful attention”. So it is not only about FDI, he also spoke about permitting “organised retail chains” in the retail sector. These “organised retail chains” are none other than big corporates like Bharti, Reliance Tata, the Birla Group, Godrej, the Mahindra, the ITC Group and Wadia – and a horde of others – who are awaiting the opening up of the retail sector to pump in enormous amounts of investment money over the next few years. According to Chidambaram, the entire retail sector is going to be opened up for the Indian compradors as well as FDI. As far as the ordinary people engaged in the retail business are concerned there is no difference between FDI and Indian Corporates once they are in retail. The tendency of both will be to oust the traditional retailers, monopolise and then control the sector. For the time being, just because of wide criticisms from various corners and opposition from the fake left, the government has withheld the plan to open up the retail sector for FDI, whereas, the Indian corporates are already given a free hand. Here, the government and the organised retail lobby were quite successful in containing and diverting the whole debate in the direction of FDI question in retail sector, so that the entry of Indian corporates in retail is justified and supported. This is evident from the general opinion coming out from various corners that “when there is enough capital here itself then why should we allow foreign capital in the retail sector?” This kind of argument fails to understand the dangers of this so-called capital of the corporates. It is the very same capital that has massacred adivasis (formerly known as “untouchablels”) at Kalinganagar, or is snatching away the basic livelihood of hundreds of thousands of people across the country in the name of the Special Economic Zones (SEZ). It is the very same capital that makes huge profit out while employing very few people and helps the governments to show multi-digit GDP growth while pushing millions into hunger and misery. And, it is this very same capital that is now going to snatch away the livelihood of the more than 160 million people whose life depends on the retail sector. Meanwhile, with an aim to substantiate the need to open up the retail sector for FDI, various study reports were brought out by the government as well as corporates. The study conducted by the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations (ICRIER) came out with its report on FDI in retail sector, strongly recommending for 49 percent FDI. It says, “In the initial stage, FDI up to 49 per cent should be allowed which can be raised to 100 per cent in 3-to-5 years depending on the growth of the sector. FDI cap below 49 per cent would not bring in the desired foreign investment”. It argued that by restricting FDI, we are losing huge amounts of foreign investment which otherwise would have speeded up the growth of organised formats in the country. During the same time, towing a similar line of thinking as that of ICRIER report, another report by the ICICI bank also came out. In all these reports the basic arguments in support of allowing FDI in retail are that it will improve competition and develop the market; will generate more employment; increased sourcing by major international retailers will boost up exports; greater investment in food processing technology will reduce overall wastage and improve production and distribution cycle; will improve the life style by spending on quality products; and, in the long run it will develop tourism, improve agriculture, develop efficient small and medium size industries etc… etc…! ….. Continue reading
It is now almost five months since Irom Sharmila returned to Imphal on 5th March 2007, to continue her hunger fast against the draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). The situation continues to be grim – both for Sharmila as well for all those suffering under the prolonged implication of AFSPA.
For those of you reading about Sharmila’s epic struggle for the first time – on 4th November 2000, 28 year old Irom Sharmila Chanu started her hunger fast seeking repeal of the draconian AFSPA. This was her response to one among countless incidents of arbitrary killing by the Armed Forces in the north east when on 2nd November 2000, 10 innocent civilians were killed at Malom near Imphal, Manipur.
Sharmila has since been incarcerated at J.N. Hospital Imphal. Over the years she has been repeatedly arrested and detained under Section 309 IPC (attempt to commit suicide). In October 2006, for the first time Sharmila left Manipur and continued her protest fast at Jantar Mantar, and then at AIIMS and RML hospitals in New Delhi where she was kept under constant police vigil.
Sentenced to solitary confinement?
Now in her 7th year of the fast, Sharmila’s health is deteriorating. Far from responding to her demand of Repeal of AFSPA, the state is doing everything it can to isolate her and her peaceful struggle.
At the hospital, Sharmila is not allowed visitors on a regular basis. This is in complete violation of the law, which permits anyone in custody, be they an undertrial prisoner or a convict in a high security prison regular visits by his or her family members, friends, supporters and/or lawyers. And yet, Sharmila does not even this basic freedom, despite the fact that there is no court order commanding her isolation. Her family, friends and supporters are put through an arduous and cumbersome process to meet her.
The ‘Special’ process takes to meet Sharmila can take up to 20 days and involves an application to the Joint Secretary Home Department, Government of Manipur; the DGP, Prison, Central Jail, Manipur; the Additional Superintendent, Sajiwa Jail, Manipur and the SI, Sajiwa Jail – who if the application gets all the due clearances, then ‘accompanies’ the visitor to meet Sharmila!
What are we to surmise except that the Government is attempting to isolate her from all contact with the outside world in the hope of weakening her struggle? ……….. Continue reading