Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati's diktat to shut Reliance Fresh operations in the state has irked both farmers and industry in the state and some are holding protests to demand their reopening.
Contrary to her claim that she was constrained to shut Reliance retail stores because of opposition from a large chunk of the farming community, representatives of farmers as well as industry have expressed their chagrin over the move.
They were also critical of the government's decision to roll back its own Agriculture Infrastructure and Investment Policy, whereby doors were opened for contract farming in the state.
Interestingly, some farmer groups have described Mayawati's abrupt move as "anti-farmer" taken under pressure after her political adversary, Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav, raised the issue and his party men resorted to protests outside Reliance stores.
About 5,000-odd farmers who were lined up by Reliance Fresh for supplying vegetables are planning to stage demonstrations and protest road-blocks to demand reversal of the state government decision.
In Nawabganj town of the Unnao district, about 45 kms from Lucknow, a farmer group staged a demonstration outside a Reliance Collection Centre on Saturday, while a major protest has been proposed in Lucknow on Tuesday.
"We will block the Lucknow-Kanpur highway if our demand to reopen Reliance stores is not met," Kanhaiya Lal, a farmer from Makdoompur village in Nawabganj, told IANS.
Another farmer Atul Bihari Verma complained: "Mayawati's new farm policy had given us the freedom to sell our produce to anyone, as against the earlier binding of selling the stuff only at mandis (wholesale markets) where middlemen were fleecing us. Now it is back to square one."
Ram Kumar of Veeramour village, about 20 kms from Lucknow, told IANS: "Do you know that Reliance had even facilitated collection of our produce from our doorstep, and the company was even bearing the 2 per cent mandi tax and 0.5 per cent education cess."
Farmers Dharampal and Keerat were equally unhappy with the move. "At the mandi we have to also pay Rs 5 per sack as handling charge."
What seems to irk most farmers is the exploitation at the hands of middlemen who generally control the price at the mandis.
Girdhari Yadav of Bakshi-ka-Talab, about 25 kms from Lucknow, said: "Mayawati's order has forced us to revert back to the mandis and many of us were ridiculed there for having entered into an agreement with Reliance."
Representatives of the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) and the PHD Chamber of Commerce were equally critical of the government decision. "I fail to understand what prompted the government to withdraw its own policy that was aimed at bringing in the much desired agricultural reforms by encouraging private investment in the agri-sector," remarked Anil Shukla of the PHD Chamber of Commerce.
"If this is going to be the erratic functioning of the government, then who will come to invest in Uttar Pradesh, which was anyway the last destination on the priority list of private investors."
Criticising the government's reversal, a CII (Uttar Pradesh Chapter) official told IANS on condition of anonymity: "The growth of retail chains such as Reliance was a big step forward in modern agriculture infrastructure which takes time and money to build. A sudden reversal is bound to shake the confidence of any investor."
He said: "UP had suffered so far largely because of political instability which did seem to come to an end with Mayawati getting a clear majority to form a stable five-year government. No one could have imagined that even a powerful and stable government like hers would change its own decisions at the drop of a hat, after all, no one implements a policy without studying all its pros and cons."