Chief Minister Mayawati’s decision to close down Reliance Fresh operations has led to a piquant situation in the state. While farmers are being mobilised to pressure the government into reopening the outlets, wholesale dealers and retail traders are opposed to organised retail.
With Reliance Fresh having lined up around 5,000 farmers to supply them with vegetables, the Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU-Tikait group) has shot off a memorandum to the chief minister demanding a lifting of the ban. “The closure has harmed the interests of farmers. They continue to suffer from middlemen,” BKU leader Ram Asre Lodhi said. Demonstrations were held in the neighbouring Unnao district.
Since farmers are taking up the issue on Reliance’s behalf, moves are afoot to paint the Samajwadi Party (SP), which had sponsored agitations in several places on August 23 leading to the closure of Reliance Fresh stores, as “anti-farmer”.
SP MP Banwarilal Kanchal had led violent demonstration in Lucknow last week, prompting the government to close all Reliance Fresh stores in the state capital and Varanasi. Mayawati had then announced that interests of farmers' were supreme and a high-level committee headed by Cabinet Secretary Shashank Shekhar Singh would formulate a new policy on retail business.
On Tuesday, the chief minister once again said the move was in response to maintaining the law and order situation in the two cities. The chief minister’s Principal Secretary Shailesh Krishna said the committee would submit its report within a month, adding, “In the past, there was no policy to govern organised retails.”
Reliance Fresh had launched 10 outlets in Lucknow last week and planned to establish processing centres at an estimated cost of around Rs 250 crore. Its rival, Spencer’s, has invested nearly Rs 10 crore in the state.
Representatives of the Confederation of Indian Industry and the PHD Chamber of Commerce have also criticised the ban. The PHDCCI’s UP convenor Sudhakar Tiwari said the decision could lead to erosion of capital from the state.