Government policy and regulation to the retail industry in India.

By: EconomyWatch   Date: 29 June 2010

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“India's government seems to be on a gradual but definite path toward allowing foreign retailers into the country....” suggests the A.T. Kearney's Retail Development Index 2006. It is a common knowledge that the Union government has to face a number of hurdles both from it's opponents as well as it's allies before it could announce the final verdict. There have been demands from all corners regarding framing of rules to safeguard interests of the so-called small traders. Simultaneously economists have the consensus that industrialization is imperative for the growth of the economy and foreign investment has to play an inevitable role in it. With Lok Sabha elections to come in 2009, the Union government too seems a bit confused regarding decision in who's favor can provide it a political edge. So in this study let us compare the views for and against liberalization as is held by Indian Bureaucrats.

Entry of large players: stiff opposition from Left Parties

The recent outburst of fury among the Kerala's LDF(Left Democratic Front) Government has been noticeable. They have exacted for a three-pronged approach to prevent the retail giants from serving the Keralians. At the first stage, not only MNCs but also the local retail giants like Reliance will be shown the red signal. In fact a magnified CPI protest has compelled a Reliance Fresh outlet in Kochi to take police protection. The draft of a bill has been finalized to amend the Kerala Essential Commodities Act so that the state government can intervene in the retail market.

As a second step, local councils (70% of which is controlled by the Left) will deny licenses, that are mandatory to start a retail chain in the state. Kochi and Tiruvananthapuram corporations will be in fact commanded to reconsider the licenses of outlets that are already operating in the regions. This strategy grants more power to the state. However a ban on shopping in these outlets is still not clear. The third and the most revolutionary judgment is actually an outcome of the whole game. Government-controlled supermarkets and hypermarkets will be established in some of the key cities in the state.

This rigid legal wall not only in Kerala but across the country has been born out of a traditional mindset. Kerala claims to have a literacy rate of 90.92% and a sex ratio of 1058 females per 1000 males. The data speaks for the government's prudent commitment in the case of Kerala. So it is high time that the government opens up avenues for its people to let them grow and become self dependent.

But the government is still holding good, the conventional 'infant industry' outlook. The main worry is the negative impact on the already gloomy condition of employment. Let's make an attempt to understand the vicious circle of unorganized retailing and present employment scenario. Unorganized retailing has a share of about 96% in the Indian retail sector. But why should people work in such miserable situations if the manufacturing and services sector are booming is the overwhelming question. There has been a trend to migrate to cities in search of alluring bright city lights. But the consequences has been been even worse- earning lower than expected wages(Harris Todaro model of migration). The illiterate and unskilled people ultimately set up a grocery shop to earn a living. This gives birth to another unorganized retail shop in India and thus enlarges its share. So the unorganized retail market in India has born out of fate rather than selection.

The Actual Scene

Those opposing the expansion of organized retail in India must understand that the share of primary sector shrinks and that of the secondary and then the tertiary sector expands as an economy grows. This is the basic structural adjustment in case of any transforming economy. India is at a take off stage. A retardation in the agricultural sector is not permissible but inhibiting the growth of services on grounds of protection to agriculture is more irrational. A proof of this has been seen in a small town of North Bengal. The opening of a Big Bazaar (brand name for stores under Pantaloon) departmental store has seen a human deluge of about 7,000 people in the 35,000 sqft shopping mall by 3pm. This clearly indicates that people (even in remote places) have become fed up of monotonous marketing practices and demand nowadays is purely governed by choice.

The Ruling UPA government's outlook

The UPA government is rather clear in its aim of taking India to new highs. The commerce minister has repeatedly asserted that FDI will kill two birds with the same stone. It will generate substantial direct as well as indirect employment and at the same time will not tamper with the present scope of the unorganized retail market. The indirect employment includes jobs in transport, packaging and other logistic services. It will enhance competition in the country thus giving a virtual chance to face global challenges while operating at home. Mr. Nath is clearly focused on the utilization of FDI in acquiring benefits. It is true that such investments will bring in huge imports but this may also help in the Indian products reaching the foreign consumers. Foreign majors such as Wal-Mart, Tesco and Carrefour are ready to enter India. The UPA government has already permitted 51 percent FDI in Single-brand products without consulting its allies and it is expected that slowly but steadily the government will achieve its goal.

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