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Thursday, June 28, 2007

Organised Retail - Again

Yours truly had written about the sunrise sector of organized retail twice before (here and here). It wasn't a complete account in any case, but what has prompted this entry is the discussion on the same on the Management Accountant Blog and the strike on June 27 by the organization of small traders (the Vyapari-Vyavasayi Ekopana Samiti) in Kerala against the entry of retail giants [Interestingly, the processions by striking traders in Kochi were led by the same {leftist} politicians who inaugurated the new Reliance Fresh stores in Kochi; so much for commitment to a cause!!].
The grouse of small traders against organized retail, as outlined before, is this: the small traders will be forced to close shop due to low prices and once that happens, the big malls will start fleecing the customers by charging exorbitant sums. That the small traders will feel the heat of competition is a fait accompli; some of them will have to exit, as has been the experience around the world. The question is, is that a reason enough to resist the biggies. Let's look at it this way: the malls are not manned by robots; they too will be creating a lot of jobs for the burgeoning young population of India. And, more importantly, they will be working in a better environment. Why is everyone talking only of job losses and not about job creation?
Again, it is not that there is no way out for small traders - they can come together, form a single brand and put up a fight against the biggies [It has been outlined here and, therefore, is not repeated]. There were reports, some months back, about how some kirana-wallahs in Gujarat /Maharashtra were going about doing just the same. [How long will it take for all to realize that trade unions are not for confrontations with the government / people, but to serve each other for mutual benefit keeping in view the larger interests of the society?]
A pertinent point raised here relates to the low scope for tax evasion by organized retailers. Everyone knows that not many traders issue invoices and can well imagine the loss  - of both indirect (sales tax)and direct taxes (income tax) - the government incurs due to this. Thus, the government too will be a big beneficiary of organized retail taking root. Also, since almost all big retailers will be - and can be only - corporate entities, there is scope for ensuring compliance with different regulations aimed at preventing defrauding the consumers. The pet peeve of critics - higher prices due to cartelization once the small players exit - can be addressed effectively through mandatory Cost Audit.
Forget the low costs to consumers, forget the benefits that will accrue to the agri-sector; one aspect sorely missed by all seems to be this: the unorganized retail sure provides a lot of employment opportunities, but at the end of the day, it is just that - unorganized. Remember, the trade unions cover just about 10 per cent of the total workforce in India. The rest  - mostly in retail sector - are unorganized; not for them, the employee protection / welfare schemes like PF, Bonus, Insurance, etc. Don't we need to offer them these? Do they not deserve to receive such benefits? In a way, by opposing organized retail, the traders' unions and the politicians who support them are preventing the coming together of the unorganized workers (By aligning with the shop owners, isn't the Left betraying its own cause?). With organized retail, better employee treatment will result and this will help in covering an important step towards a social security cover - at least a semblance of the same, the kind which exists in India now - for all.
Finally, the kind of opposition seen now in Kerala carries with it a deep sense of deja vu. It was the same leftist politicians who waged a sort of war against computerization in the late 80s and early 90s, resulting in other southern states prosper in IT business; just a few months back, a bullet was seized from the laptop bag of CPI(M) state secretary - my point is not about the bullet, but the 'laptop'! The same vitriolic spirit was in full display when the previous government sought a loan from ADB; soon after coming to power, the present LDF government silently signed the dotted lines the ADB showed them! They opposed the 'Smart City' project when in opposition and a year later signed the agreement with the same people. Who knows, a few years later, we Keralites may even see a mall owned by CPI(M)!!!!

Friday, June 08, 2007

It Happens only in India

I found a few of the recent happenings to be really amusing....In my view, these kind of things can happen only in India......Read on...
The Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh, in a speech made at a CII function, asked India Inc to have a check on CEO & promoter salaries. He feels that they are paid in excess of what they deserve! He also came down on conspicuous consumption. More importantly, he said that corporates should show moderation in their pursuit of profits. Really interesting and amusing views, coming as they do from the architect of reforms - L, P and G -  which has made India achieve nearly 10 per cent GDP growth [9.4% in 2006-07], far far above the Nehru rate of growth of 3 per cent! The strong growth India is witnessing now was made possible only because of doing away with the licence-permit raj that was in vogue prior to 1990s. As an economist, the PM should well know that salaries in the corporate sector are a function of demand and supply. Money is a good motivator for most people and higher salaries are to be paid if the companies need to retain people. What is wrong with it? Then again, the message about profit maximization is clearly in line with those 1960s' ideology which totally screwed up India's growth and the ill-effects of which continue to haunt us even now.
The PM's message may be borne out of the realization that the 'trickle-down' theory is taking time to work in India. But, take a hard look and it will be clear that development has bypassed only those sectors where reforms were not initiated, most notably agriculture, which employs more than 60 per cent of India's workforce. In fact, no reforms have been undertaken where they are needed the most. And, this inability to call the spade a spade comes with a cost - that of losing elections - as people who are yet to get a taste of what reforms entail, will definitely be wary of them. Add to this the continuous barking by the Commies and their allies who believe in the equal distribution of poverty and it's no wonder that the reformer himself has to take a stance like this. In which other country can you see the PM putting forth such views? It is all the more ironic, since (I believe) the PM himself does not hold such a view!! It is also a pointer to the fact that even after three years in office, he has still not been able to assert himself (Just the other day, I saw on TV a clipping of some public function and you can clearly see that the PM sits down only after Sonia Gandhi is seated. Shameful!!). It's indeed sad to see a fine economist being made to dance to the tunes of petty Leftists and miserable scums like Arjun Singh and TN CM MK.
The second development is the Gujjar unrest in Rajasthan which held almost all North Indian states to ransom for 7 days. There were violent protests and it left many people dead. The Gujjar community - which is classified as OBC in Gujarat - wants themselves to be reclassified as STs, since they feel that recently-included-in-OBC-list Jats (who have more members than the Gujjars) will take away a good chunk of reservation benefits. But the Meena community - classified as STs - opposes any such move, as they are afraid they will lose out in the race. Even without going into the causes of this agitation or the merits of the arguments of both parties, it can be seen that this unenviable situation amply demonstrates the pernicious nature of reservation as is being implemented in India. As I have outlined before, 'Caste' is being equated with 'Class'. From Gandhiji's non-violence we have reached the other extreme of indulging in violence to prove a point. When one more caste is considered to be eligible for reservation (on the basis of their political power, what else?), those already in the list will face competition; it is perfectly 'logical', given the way reservations operate in India. Why should there be a hue and cry over that? When will people start appreciating the fact that it is in fact 'economic power' that is important these days and therefore, if at all reservations have to be there, it should be based on objective economic criteria? India will probably be the only country where people fight with each other to be called 'backward'!!
Then there is the curious case of a person becoming implicated and later being let off when there is a change in the government. The latest such instance is the one in the Taj corridor case. The case was registered on the directions of the Supreme Court which found there was a prima facie case against the accused. Look what has happened now: UP Governor has refused to grant permission to the CBI to prosecute Mayavati, since he believes there is not enough evidence against her! It is clearly a politically-motivated action, and it becomes even more evident when we read it together with Mayavati's statement about presidential elections. Presumably, to get her support in the race to Raisina Hills, the Congress has soft-pedalled her involvement in the case. Unfortunately, the Governor has again proved that he is just a pawn!!
All these happen only in one place in the whole world. It's our India, sadly!!!