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Retail reform protests paralyse Indian parliament
Agence France Presse - November 28, 2011
Regional leaders of some of India's most populous states – Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal and Tamil Nadu – have said they are against the plan announced last week to allow in supermarket giants such as Wal-Mart.
Lawmakers from opposition parties and from within Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's coalition stood up, waving papers and shouting until both houses of parliament were adjourned for the day.
"There is a broad sense in this country which is against this move," Arun Jaitley, senior leader of the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) told reporters. "We must compel the government to withdraw this move."
Individual state governments have the power to ban the foreign supermarket chains, scuppering long-awaited reforms that could lead to a consumer revolution in India.
With the easing of foreign investment rules, US-based Wal-Mart, Britain's Tesco and France's Carrefour hope to tap into India's increasingly affluent middle-classes.
But there is stiff opposition from labour groups, politicians and traders who fear the small family-owned shops which dominate the retail trade would be swamped. "The foreign supermarkets will undercut us in price, we'll lose business," said Vinod Bakshi, 43, owner of small family-run store in New Delhi.
The southern regional DMK party, which the government relies on for survival in parliament, demanded withdrawal of the reforms. Opposition lawmakers also demanded a full debate after the Congress-lead government approved the legislative changes without a parliamentary vote.
Jayalalitha, the chief minister of Tamil Nadu state who goes by one name, said late Sunday that the move had come as a "thunderbolt". "It only indicates the arrogance of the government," she said, underlining fears that large international supermarket chains will "throttle small retailers and distributors."
To protect small-town stores, foreign retailers will be allowed to open only in the 53 cities with million-plus populations.
The controversy is just the latest issue to halt parliament, which has been regularly adjourned in rows over corruption and inflation.