Reliance Fresh war heats up in Bengal – Forward Bloc takes stand

August 20

The Forward Bloc-run agriculture marketing board today threatened a “law-and-order problem” if the government doesn’t stop Reliance from entering Bengal’s farm retail market.

The threat has come at a time the CPM-controlled food processing department has paved the way for the company’s foray into the sector.

The Bloc and other Left Front partners like the RSP and the CPI are planning to organise protests by traders through a statewide bandh in markets.

“The traders’ protests against Reliance’s entry in farm retail will trigger law-and-or-der problems. They are angry because the government is helping Reliance acquire space for its retail shops. We’ll ask the chief minister to restrain Reliance from making clandestine moves to open outlets without permission from the board,” chairman Naren Chatterjee said.

He said the board has refused to issue a licence Mukesh Ambani’s company had sought to procure farm produce from farmers directly for its six proposed distribution centres, which would serve its retail outlets called Reliance Fresh.

“We have denied the licence since Reliance is planning to monopolise the entire chain of farm products marketing in the state, endangering the livelihood of lakhs of small traders. Now, the company is trying to make a backdoor entry by calling their distribution centres food processing units,” Chatterjee said.

The Bloc leader has sent letters to food processing minister Mohanta Chatterjee and land and land reforms minister Abdur Rezzak Mollah opposing the clearance given to Reliance to hold 600 acres for its six distribution centres.

The tag of food processing units will help Reliance retain land in excess of the ceiling.

“We considered it an in- fringement of the board’s authority and requested the ministers not to interfere,” Bloc leader Chatterjee said and added that the board would write to municipal bodies not to issue trade licences to Reliance shops without the board’s approval.

Bloc state secretary Ashok Ghosh, who supported the attack of Reliance sites as an “expression of public fury”, today repeated his demand for a bilateral meeting with the CPM on the issue.

Mohanta Chatterjee said he had acted under the instructions of chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, who, he said, told him to go through the Reliance proposals and take “appropriate” action.

Mollah has written back, saying his office would not do anything “beyond the law”.

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August 18 – FB supporters ransack Reliance outlet

Forward Bloc supporters today ransacked one of the Reliance Retail outlets coming up in the city. The incident took place around 4.30 pm at an outlet situated at the Nanda Mullick Lane in Girish Park Police Station area. Preparations were on at the store for the inauguration.

The agitators themselves intimated the police about their protest at the store.

“Around 60 FB supporters ransacked the store. Initially, they were shouting slogans but suddenly started pelting stones and bricks. They also attacked some parked cars near the store. We have booked a case,” said Ajay Ranade, Deputy Commissioner of Police (Central). However, no arrests had been made till last reports came in.

“We are opposed to the state government’s decision allowing big companies like Reliance to enter the retail sector. This is just a small instance of our protest. If the government does not stop, we will organise mass agitations. If the retail outlets come up, hundreds of small traders and businessmen will lose their livelihood,” said FB leader Hafiz Alam Sairani.

According to police, FB supporters gathered for a rally around 4.30 pm chanting anti-government and anti-Reliance slogans.

Around 40 employees were inside the store at the time. In the agitation, the showroom glass was shattered and windowpanes were damaged. The supporters also tried to enter the building but employees called the police. The agitators fled when a huge contingent of policemen rushed to the spot.

Meanwhile, the CPI(M) lambasted its Front partner, raising questions regarding the motive behind organising agitations only against Reliance stores.

“I do not understand what they are trying to do and why? Why they are not protesting against Pantaloons, or other companies who have already set up outlets in the city. They are only targeting Reliance. Do they have a problem with the name ‘Reliance’ or with the subject of retail stores,” said Benoy Konar, CPI(M) State Secretariat member.