Chennai: It’s a small shop in the corner of a street in Nerkundram. But it has almost all the goods available in a supermarket. Wiping his sweat from his forehead on a humid day just after the Bharat Bandh, Bhaskar, the owner, proudly says, “Our shop has everything you want. We even have door delivery,” he smilingly says. But when asked about the Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), the face of the 10th standard drop-out turns grim. “I don’t know what FDI means,” he says and then adds, “But from what I gather, If these foreign companies come they will eat away our business.”
He is among the lakhs of small traders or retailers who are unaware of what FDI actually means. “I joined the protest because the association asked us to join it. They say the move by the government to bring in FDI is harmful to our business, so we have launched the stir,” he says.
T Vellaiyan, president of the Tamil Nadu Vanigar Sanigangalin Peravai, agrees that most of the traders are unaware of the issue. “Once the foreign players are allowed the consumers will shift to bigger stores and small stores will soon vanish,” he reasons. He also says these multinational stores will control the market and prices, affecting the very existence of these small stores which live on meagre profits.
Lakhs of small traders or retailers in Chennai are unaware of what Foreign Direct Investment actually means.
But another shopkeeper argues, “We have been in the business for ages and know the pulse of the market. When the supermarket chains came, everybody said we would be finished. But we survived and surprisingly, many of the supermarket chains had to close because they could not survive,” he says.
A study by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and India and PriceWaterCopperhouse says that kirana (grocery) stores have existed since ages and they will continue to be at the beck and call of many households. Their presence in the midst of a residential area is a big advantage,” the study says.
Interestingly, to start a kirana shop, one doesn’t require millions. “It just requires your presence of mind, the location of the shop and the feel of the market pulse,” says Senthil, whose shop in Virugambakkam is doing a roaring business. “If you lose the confidence of the customer, then it is very hard to gain it again,” Bhaskar says.