Unorganised and organised retail must coexist and flourish in India…
After almost scaring the Tata Motors away from West Bengal, Mamata Bannerjee has now trained her guns on Reliance Retail. Well, Reliance Retail should be used to being targeted by feisty women politicians. Immediately after coming to power in Lucknow, Ms. Mayawati had earlier undertaken a similar exercise in UP.
All this is taking place when behemoths of international retail are trying to enter the Indian market. Tesco has chosen to come with Tatas, while Reliance has tied up with Wincanton. The big daddy of them all, Wal-Mart is coming to India courtesy the Bharti group.
In the September edition of Pragati-The Indian National Interest Review, Prashant Kumar Singh makes significant observations about the confusion surrounding retail industry in India. He rightly notices that-
The debate over retail in India has been fixated on the growth of organised retail, entry of international retailers and concomitant demise of the traditional retailer. The spectre of ogres like Wal-Mart gobbling small retailers has completely paralysed the government on the policy formulation front; not because of any real concern for small retailers but more out of their perceived political clout. This lack of policy initiatives for boosting and regulating organised retail is unfortunately based on the fallacy that modern retail and unorganised retail are necessarily antagonistic.
…Available data provides sufficient evidence that traditional retail is under no immediate threat from organised retail. With the present rate of growth of organised retail of 45 percent per annum, any structural changes brought about by gradual policy shifts will take at least a decade before unorganised retail feels the heat. This assessment is not to condone continued government stupor towards the unorganised sector on the issues of credit availability, access to distribution channels, and realisation of fair price for the produce. It is, instead, meant to spur the government to initiate concrete measures to support the traditional retailers.
…Given the benefits of organised retail, the role of foreign direct investment (FDI) needs to be analysed. It is fallacious to prescribe FDI as the panacea for all the ills plaguing organised retail. The eagerness of international giants to enter Indian markets can be attributed to saturation of the developed markets and low penetration of formal retail in India. The entry of FDI in retail will tilt the balance between suppliers and retailers, force smaller players to adapt and differentiate, and bring consolidation in the sector. The accompanying direct benefits are substantial: increase in exports due to high level of sourcing from India, incorporation of global best practices, investments in the complete supply chain–especially in technologies relating to cold chain, food processing and IT, increase in product variety and categories, increase in employment, and secondary benefits of modern agriculture and shopping tourism. Moreover, this FDI in retail will arrive without any sops and tax breaks from the government, unlike IT and auto-manufacturing sectors, where state governments have been bending backwards to attract investments.
Prashant Kumar Singh makes a strong case that with the right government policies in place, “the ecosystem of the retail industry in India will then adapt itself to accommodate the two seemingly divergent strands of retailing, evolving into an indigenous Indian retail model”. To read the complete piece titled “Retail in Doldrums“, download the community edition(pdf) of the latest issue of Pragati-The Indian National Interest Review.