Chennai: The Koyambedu Wholesale Market is a picture of activity, with trucks and other storage vehicles bustling in and out, transporting merchandise, and people loading or unloading them. On September 20, this place will come to a grinding halt, with all the traders of this market expressing their support to the pan-India bandh call against the hike in diesel prices and most importantly the Central government’s proposal to introduce multi-brand retail.
So what’s new in this protest call? The nation burst in uproar after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh announced that the Centre would allow FDI in the retail sector. Summing up the view of the traders, M Thiyagarajan, president of the Koyambedu Periyar Market Tomato Dealers’ Association says, “Earlier, we were warned of the tiger. Now, it is at our doorstep.”
He adds that at present, farmers and vegetable merchants form an eco-system, helping one another in terms of crisis. “We support the farmer, at times even provide him with financial aid before sowing season and ensure that he is not left in the lurch. Bringing in FDI will disturb this, and result in the monopoly of foreign conglomerates,” he details.
Thiyagarajan avers that the foreign companies such as Walmart will only focus on making profits. “A situation where such companies will not even hesitate to usurp the lands of farmers should their crops fail and they are unable to meet their terms is not difficult to imagine,” he said. He adds that traders will not be able to compete with such companies which will be able to undersell products.
He is dismissive of the fact that FDI in different sectors, notably the automobile sector, has been of benefit, as companies such as Maruti have effectively staved off the onslaught of auto majors. This, he says, cannot be replicated in the agriculture sector as it comprises millions of small-scale and marginal farmers and traders who have no backing whatsoever. “What happened to native brands of soft drinks like Vincent and Kalimark?” he asks to buttress his argument.
Another trader picked holes in the government’s proposal that FDI will boost the agrarian sector and help curb wastage by bringing in cold chains. “Can’t this be achieved by the government itself by setting up the storage units at the places of production?”
The bandh, Thiyagarajan adds, is only to register their outrage at the Central government’s proposal. “Depending on the government’s actions, we will resort to our next line of action,” he adds.