Stung by the Forward Bloc’s stiff opposition to Reliance Retail’s rollout plans in Bengal, the state government is now doing a balancing act.
While on the one hand, the state secretariat here is indifferent to talks about Reliance pulling out from Bengal, on the other, it has told Reliance to wait before taking a decision.
Both West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and state Commerce and Industries Minister Nirupam Sen on Monday said they had heard about a possible pullout by Reliance but did not comment on the matter. Reliance declined to give an official comment but sources in the company said the West Bengal government has conveyed to them that the Reliance Fresh retail venture in the state is a distinct possibility but the government first wants to “let the dust settle."
In a news report on Monday, the Hindustan Times’ business publication, Mint, said Reliance has dropped its retail plans in Bengal fearing a backlash from political parties. The daily quoted Reliance Retail president Raghu Pillai as saying, "We will open the stores only when we feel there is protection to our people and property."
It is learnt that the state government would refrain from giving land to Reliance for setting up its retail chain in Bengal. If this happens, then Reliance Industries would have to negotiate directly with owners to purchase land at market prices for its food processing plants.
Fearing a backlash from Front partners, CPM mandarins have advised Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and Nirupam Sen to stop acquiring land measuring 100 acres each at Siliguri, Malda, Asansol, Kharagpur, Falta and Kolkata for the retail giant to set up its distribution-cum-food processing centres. Reliance plans 23 collection hubs for agro-horticultural and dairy products, nine distribution centres and 145 retail outlets in Bengal with an investment of Rs 4,500 crore in this sector.
The development in the CPM camp comes close on the heels of Forward Bloc state secretary Ashok Ghosh’s decision to send a letter to Mamata requesting her to join his party’s agitation against the Reliance’s Farm Fresh retail outlets.