Saturday, July 5, 2008

RPG retail chain faces hawkers' wrath

Sat, Jul 5 02:11 AM

RPG Enterprises' Spencer's retail chain, which has opened 33 stores across West Bengal including 23 in Kolkata over the past 18 months, ran into its first opposition here with hawkers crying foul over the latest location, at Gariahat in south Kolkata.

The Hawker Sangram Committee, representing around 6,000 Gariahat hawkers, picketed the gates and vowed not to let the latest Spencer's open as they see it as a threat to their livelihood, on the same plane as Mukesh Ambani's Reliance Retail and the AV Birla Group's More, both of which had to abort plans for the state.

The Sangram Committee, formed in November 2006 when the Left Front government uprooted hawkers to make way for a flyover, said the earlier Spencer's locations were not as "threatening" to their livelihood as the Gariahat one.

RPG Enterprises vice-chairman Sanjiv Goenka, facing chants of "RPG go back", could not enter and had to make a quick exit as the police stood by.

Later, sounding dismissive about the unexpected protests, Goenka said, "I don't know who is behind this...We plan to open 20 stores this year."

Spencer's said in a statement that the demonstration was orchestrated by "misinformed parties" with "vested interests."

"All our stores in Kolkata have received tremendous support so far and we are grateful to all our stakeholders for that," it said.

"This is not a threat to traditional trade...the product range and assortment we offer to our consumers is totally different from what traditional trade offers," the company said. Over the past year, even as Spencer's has opened 1.5 lakh sqft of retail space in Kolkata, Reliance Retail has had to drop its ambitious plans for the state after violent protests by the Forward Bloc, a Left Front partner. More, which tried to enter on a low key, also had to shut down.

The 36,000sqft store was to have been Spencer's second large format in Kolkata after the one at South City Mall.

Shaktiman Ghosh, general secretary of the Hawker Sangram Committee, said, "We have no objection if Spencer's sells branded products. But selling unbranded products would drive 6,000 hawkers in the area jobless."


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