Buddha working to pave way for corporate farm-to-table retailing

Written by Economy Bureau | Kolkata, Dec 28 | Updated: Dec 29 2007, 06:49am hrs
The Left Front government is working on a compromise formula to allow the entry of corporate houses in farm-to-table retailing, Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee said Friday.

"I am trying to work out a compromise formula. We must move in a big way for modern market mechanism but slowly and cautiously," said Bhattacharjee.

Front members like the Forward Bloc have stalled the entry of Reliance Retail in the state.

"There are a good number of people working between farmers and consumers-people who sell vegetables on 'thelas' (hand drawn carts). This old system cannot go forever, but we have to switch over from old market mechanism to a modern one," he told members of the Bengal Chamber of Commerce at their 153 rd annual general meeting.

"Moreover, there are so many small vegetable markets in and around the city. If the big houses come they will not be there," he said, repeating fears he has voiced earlier.

While the chief minister did not elaborate on the compromise formula, sources in the industry said it could be a mechanism that integrates most of the stakeholders in the farm-to-table chain.

The state has produced 15 million tonne of rice and 11.6 million tonne of vegetables this year.

According to Bhattacharjee, the challenge lies in sustaining the production as well as reducing wastage. The government has appointed an agriculture commission. "I am waiting for their recommendations. Based on that, we are trying to consolidate our success in agriculture," he said.

While 63% of the state's land is under agriculture, only 1% is fallow against a national average of 17%, he pointed out. And, with a forest cover of over 13%, that leaves only 23% for industry and cities.

"The opposition says we should not move further, we just can not accept that," he said.

Mentioning that the state has received an investment of Rs 90,000 crore this year in seven steel plants, he said that the modernisation of Dum Dum airport is scheduled to begin from next month. This is likely to increase the cargo handling capacity of the airport by 12%. The deep-sea port project on the Bay of Bengal is almost finalised.