Twenty-two-year-old Nagaraj N. wakes up around 3 a.m. every day. He boasts he needs no alarm; his body has an inbuilt one. From his small room in Yeshwantpur he walks to the nearby Agricultural Produce Marketing Committee (APMC) yard, one of the largest and busiest in the city.
Mr. Nagaraj works two seven-hour shifts a day at the yard where he helps load and unload produce brought in by traders from Bangalore’s outskirts. He also helps in sales and takes home Rs. 200 on a good day.
For hundreds like him, this APMC yard is their primary source of livelihood. And now, as he puts it, their market and livelihoods are “under threat”.
Mr. Nagaraj is referring to the State government’s decision to allow foreign direct investment (FDI) in multi-brand retail. The announcement has caused quite a flutter in the market, though many say it was expected after the new government took over.
“This will be the end of the road for people like me,” says Mr. Nagaraj, as he unloads a sack of onion from a lorry. He feels that there won’t be any place for him in big department stores, and the market, where he earns to support his family, will simply shut down. Life for him, he says, is already a struggle with his daily wage supporting a family of six. His friend Manjanna, who is a head-load worker and salesman, adds that multinational companies (MNCs) won’t bring in any jobs as there won’t be any place for “uneducated, illiterate” labour. “They will only employ well-qualified salesmen. Where will people like me go?”
Srinivas M.B., owner of a shop in the APMC yard, has some well-informed arguments to present. He says the entry of big retailers such as Walmart destroyed the local trade and markets in Thailand. He adds that at this critical juncture, when the rupee is depreciating and the economy is already in trouble, allowing FDI would be the worst move. “It is going to result in large-scale unemployment.”
Shiva Kumar, another trader in the same market, is more optimistic. He believes that those who want fresh produce will never go to a supermarket. “There’s a rapport between the customers and us that just doesn’t exist in supermarkets. The one who will truly suffer will be the farmer, as he will be at the mercy of these retailers if they end up controlling the entire market.”
Ravi Prakash, a market regular, chuckles when asked if he thinks FDI will affect his choice of market. “Why would I buy my vegetables wrapped in plastic when I can get them straight from the farm here?” As he pays Mr. Nagaraj for his purchase, the latter smiles, despite the fact that the amount is much lower than what he had asked for.
Now, that is something you won’t see at a supermarket, will you?