Thousands of retail shops as well as wholesale traders in the city and neighbouring Thane downed shutters on Thursday in protest against the Centre's proposal to welcome multinational retail chains in the country.
The Federation of Retail Traders Welfare Association (FRTWA) claimed that nearly 80,000 small and medium shops remained shut in response to the bandh that was called by Confederation of All India Trade Associations and backed by Opposition parties. Bustling markets in Dadar, Fort, Crawford Market in the city besides those in the suburbs like Goregaon, Borivli, Mulund and Bhandup remained deserted on Thursday.
“Unless the government takes measures to protect 1.2 crore traders in the country, we cannot survive competition,'' said Viren Shah, president of the FRTWA.
The federation has demanded, among other things, that traders get interest-free loans, and a tax holiday for 10 years.
Amidst all this, the state government is yet to clarify its stance on the on the Centre's plan to allow 51 % foreign direct investment (FDI) in the retail sector.
Though it's a given that the Congress-led government in the state will support the decision, chief minister Prithviraj Chavan is yet to make a statement on the issue. Congress' ally, the Nationalist Congress party (NCP), has supported the decision with party chief Sharad Pawar pointing out that the FDI would benefit the farmers as well as consumers.
Deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar said that the government was willing to talk to traders to assuage their concerns. He added that the interests of farmers would also be protected. “The chief minister and I will sit down discuss the issue with our party leaders and spell out the state's stance soon,” Pawar said.
NCP leaders like rural development minister and Public Works minister Chhagan Bhujbal have already backed FDI in retail. Agriculture minister Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil has also backed the FDI proposal. “The move will benefit consumers as well as farmers. It will reduce the gap between producer and the market and fetch cultivators a better price… It will increase competition for retail traders, but I don't think it will wipe them out as is being feared,'' Patil said.