Millennium Post

Give consumer a fair deal

The introduction of a flurry of reforms including 51 per cent foreign direct investment [FDI] in the multi-brand retail has sent political parties into a tumble with the key UPA ally Trinamool Congress setting a 72-hour deadline for the roll back.

The reforms have once again invited the wrath of the socialistic ideologues of various political outfits. With the exception of a few allies of the Congress, all the parties have decided to oppose the move by straining the vocal chords to the utmost limit. Let’s see whether the government has the stomach to take on the Opposition onslaught. When the Congress government under P V Narasimha Rao with Manmohan Singh at the helm of the finance ministry took the first steps to change the economic model from licence-permit
to free market, similar protests took place.  In the mid-1990s, there was also a big hue and cry, including the charge of cultural invasion, when McDonald’s opened their first outlet in Basant Lok, near Priya cinema in South Delhi.

Since then a lot of changes have taken place – McD has started selling aloo-tikki burger, an adaptation of bread-tikki sold across the national Capital by the street vendors. Recently it introduced McEgg to compete with the ubiquitous Bun-Anda sold at the tea shops on the campuses all over the country.

On a more serious note, coming of McD and KFC made Indians realise that even their food was capable of competing with the western concept of fast food. The outlets of Nathu’s, Haldiram, Bikanerwala and Kaleva are packaging Indian sweets and snacks like never before. McD ushered in a culture where the Indian
was forced to change the way he sold his mithai. Eating golgappa is no more an adventurous exercise. It can be eaten at peace sitting inside an air-conditioned restaurant without the bother to keep the flies and dogs away.

BJP leader Arun Jaitley has tried to strike a note of caution saying that implementation of FDI in the multi-brand retail will make India a nation of ‘sales boys and sales girls’. What’s the harm Jaitley if we are able to create job opportunities for youth who would have otherwise remained jobless or worked as domestic helps? Have the malls and the McDs led to the shutdown of business for the street vendors? On the contrary, today I see a greater number of vendors on the streets selling food in my neighbourhood ranging from
to momos. The work force employed at these malls constitutes the clientele of the aforementioned food vendors, who do a brisk business all through the day.

In the past 10 years, revolutionary changes have taken place in the makeup and behaviour of the neighbourhood grocer. A decade ago, the arrogant Lala would sit on a high pedestal dictating to us what to buy and seldom bothered to address our demands and needs. About five years back, two huge malls opened in our neighbourhood with 10,000 square-feet super stores as their main attraction.

Since then Lalaji has been a changed man. He uses an electronic weighing machine, cares about not pushing the expired stock and now sells goods at below the MRP. He keeps himself updated and tries to convince us about his wares. He has also introduced free home delivery service and we have been very happy with our neighbourhood Lala as we are with the super store. Both have ensured that they get a fair share from our family budget. In fact I must narrate a story about my father having a fracas with the local grocer some three decades ago. Despite being a busy medical practioner, he always made it a point to buy the grocery himself. I still remember, he had returned that morning with empty grocery jute bag [polythene carry bags were still to come in vogue] and gone straight for his small portable Remington typewriter. Having made out the letter, he had briskly walked out to return about half-an-hour later looking very cheerful.

‘I have filed a case of hoarding against this shopkeeper’s son,’ he said cheerfully. We egged him to narrate the full story. ‘He had put stickers on the MRP, trying to sell the old stock of refined oil at the rate of new stock. When I protested, he had the gall to tell me that he would now sell me no oil,’ he said. The next day, the shopkeeper and his son both were at our doorsteps with a crate of refined oil packets pleading withdrawal of case. In those times, however, my father’s act was considered to be cantankerous and unnecessary. Over the ages, we allowed the grocer next door to cheat us and commit crimes against us on a daily basis. Coming of the big brands changed the way of the Indian retail. For my monthly purchase of 5 kg bag of rice, today I have several options available to me. If that option is increased for me, I would be happier and merrier as I would have the greater opportunity to balance my budget.

The malls, superstores, McDs and KFCs have not really impoverished anybody. Yes they do try to thrive on our greed, but then that’s a negative trait in our character. They have created a huge and smart workforce, all Indian. Then why should we burn their effigy, beat our chest and make police waste precious water in canons to shoot down mindless protests.

Sidharth Mishra is with Centre for Reforms, Development & Justice, and consulting editor, Millennium Post.
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