September 29, 2008

Leftfront approves conditional renewal of licence to Metro

Metro Bloc-ade lifted, licence by Oct 10
29 Sep 2008, 0311 hrs IST,TNN

KOLKATA: Left Front partner Forward Bloc on Sunday gave in to intense pressure from the rest of the allies, especially CPI(M), and agreed to renew the licence to wholesale major Metro Cash & Carry. The Bloc-controlled state agriculture marketing board will issue by October 10 the agriculture produce marketing committee (APMC) licence the German supply major needs to start operations at its new outlet on EM Bypass.
As a concession to the Bloc, which literally had to eat humble pie on the vexed issue, it was decided that a set of conditions - to be drawn up jointly by FB and CPI(M) - would be imposed before the licence is renewed. Reacting to the development, a Metro Cash & Carry spokesperson said: "We have received media reports that the APMC licence will be given on October 10. We heartily thank the chief minister, the Bengal government, the marketing board and all officials concerned for this."
Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee had on Friday overruled the board's objection and asked chief secretary Amit Kiran Deb to issue orders to renew Metro's licence by September 30. Now, as per the Front's decision, the order will not be executed. Sunday's acrimonious meeting, extending to nearly three hours, saw the Front partners coming down heavily on the Bloc leadership - state secretary Ashok Ghosh, agriculture marketing board chairman Naren Chatterjee, Barun Mukherjee and Hafiz Alam Sairani - for objections to renewing the licence and the decision to resign from the state Cabinet if the CM's order was not revoked.
With the Singur crisis still looming large, most Front partners were in no mood to allow internal bickerings to come to the fore and give the Opposition another issue to exploit. Bloc leader Barun Mukherjee explained his party's stand on the issue and why they considered Metro Cash & Carry a threat to farmers and small traders. But RSP leaders Debabrata Bandyopadhyay, Biswanath Chowdhury, CPI state secretary Manju Maju-mdar, Nandagopal Bhattacharya and other LF leaders launched a scathing attack on the Bloc leadership.
According to sources, the Bloc leaders were asked to explain why the licence was first issued in 2005 and then withdrawn in June 2007. The Bloc leadership's argument that then agriculture minister Kamal Guha wasn't aware of the implications of issuing the licence, however, didn't cut much ice. The Front partners were also critical of FB's sudden decision to boycott Writers' Buildings and quit the ministry if the CM's order was not revoked by September 30.
Harping on Left unity and the state's development, the partners asked the Bloc leadership to fall in line. Biman Bose and other Front leaders appealed to Ghosh to maintain Left unity. "We were never against issuing the licence. What upset us was the CM's unilateral decision at a time when talks were on," senior FB leader Sairani said after the meeting. However, leaders from the other Left Front parties wanted a greater say when it came to big investment in the state.
"Left Front will discuss and decide on who will be allowed to invest in West Bengal," Biman Bose told reporters. The CPM state secretary said that there was no question of any Bloc minister resigning. "CPM and Forward Bloc leaders will meet and decide on the conditions before October 10," he said. Ashok Ghosh echoed Biman Bose's words.
Kolkata, Sep 28 (IANS): Putting aside their differences, the constituents of West Bengal’s ruling Left Front Sunday decided to renew the licence of German firm Metro Cash and Carry while the Forward Bloc withdrew its threat of boycotting the state secretariat on the issue.”We discussed the issue threadbare and openly. We have arrived at the unanimous decision that the state Agricultural Marketing Board will renew the licence of Metro Cash & Carry on Oct 10, but there will be some conditions attached,” Left Front chairman Biman Bose said after the three-hour deliberations.

“Following the discussions, the Forward Bloc has also suspended the decision that its ministers will not go to the state secretariat Writers Buildings from Monday. They will attend office from Monday,” Bose said.
The Bloc’s ire had stemmed from a letter written by Chief Secretary Amit Kiran Deb to the South 24 Parganas district magistrate at Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s instance that the wholesale major’s licence to do business in the state may be renewed.
The Bloc had also threatened to pull out of the ministry if Bhattacharjee did not withdraw his instruction by Sep 30.

The Bloc, which holds the portfolios of agriculture and agricultural marketing in the state, had Friday said it was opposed to renewing the licence of the German company fearing “it (Metro) would eat up the space of small and poor farmers and the intermediaries”.

The party, which controls the Agriculture Marketing Board that issues the Agricultural Produce Marketing Committee (APMC) licences, took exception to Bhattacharjee bypassing the Board.

According to the formula finalised at Sunday’s Left Front meeting, the chief secretary’s order would not be implemented, and the Agriculture Marketing Board itself would grant the renewal.
The Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M), which leads the Front, and the Bloc will hold bilateral talks before Oct 10 to decide the conditions to be imposed on Metro.

“It was also decided that in future, whenever some other company comes from abroad, the matter will first be discussed in the Left Front to decide what rights the company can be given,” Bose said.

The Bloc, opposing the entry of large corporate houses in retail trade, has expressed apprehension that Metro Cash & Carry could shift to retail business after getting a foothold in the state through wholesale trade.

The company had said it would wait till Monday before deciding whether to move out of the state.

The Bloc’s aggressive posture had come at a time when the state government was in a soup on the land issue in Singur, with Tata Motors signalling an imminent pull-out of its small car facility after having suspended operations in the Nano plant since Sep 2.

Metro Cash & Carry started constructing a 100,000 sq ft outlet for an investment of $30 million in the southeast of the city a couple of years back. The project got delayed due to land disputes.

It was granted a licence to trade in APMC commodities in 2005, which was subsequently renewed twice in 2006 and 2007 to be valid till March 2008. However, in June 2007 the said licence was unilaterally withdrawn by APMC authorities. The company filed for issuance of fresh APMC licence in March 2008 and is still awaiting this.

The German major already has four stores in India - two in Bangalore, one each in Hyderabad and Mumbai and has partnered with small and medium businesses like grocery stores, hotels and restaurants.

The Left Front has been in power in West Bengal without a break since 1977.

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