Are you with farmers or middlemen, he asks Opposition

Countering the Opposition attack on FDI in multi-brand retail in the Lok Sabha, Union Information Technology and Communications Minister Kapil Sibal defended the government claim that FDI would result in increasing productive capacity, upgrading of technology and creation of employment opportunities.

Accusing the main Opposition party BJP of unnecessarily politicising the FDI issue, Mr. Sibal said the BJP had opposed liberalisation but supported the same policies when it led the NDA’s coalition government at the Centre.

“The BJP’s claim on FDI is vastly exaggerated. We are not enforcing the FDI decision. It is only for the willing States to implement it. Ultimate choice rests with the States,” Mr. Sibal said.

As ruling party members thumped their desks with glee over his counter-arguments, Mr. Sibal said BJP’s 2004 poll manifesto promised FDI in multi-brand retail but wondered “why it is opposing it today.”

Mr. Sibal said that as per the FDI policy, only 18 cities in the country could have such stores. He also allayed the apprehension voiced by BJP leader Sushma Swaraj that big retail giants would ruin small traders in India by saying, “Walmart took 16 years in China to turn profitable.”

Citing the example of West Bengal, Mr. Sibal said multi-national giants like Pepsico were purchasing potatoes from farmers in the State since 2010 as per the “pre-agreed pricing agreement.” He said the demand in West Bengal for potatoes by Pepsico had gone up from 22,000 tonnes last year to 60,000 tonnes and the cultivated area had also increased from 5,500 acres to 7,000 acres.

Mr. Sibal said India was the second biggest producer of fruits and vegetables in the world with production touching 200 million tonne annually of which nearly 80 million tonne went waste as there were not enough big retail chains to buy the produce from farmers who would stand to gain by way of remunerative prices.

Sure buyers

“The purpose of FDI policy is that the farmer should get higher price than the market price for his produce. A farmer has to negotiate with eight commission agents or middlemen till he reaches the market, this policy will cut down all that. Their produce will not go waste and they will get sure buyers. Are you with the farmers or with the middlemen and commission agents,” he asked the Opposition.

Mr. Sibal said the urban population in the country would go up from 340 million to 4,654 million by 2020 and there would be a pressing need for jobs for the youth. “Manufacturing sector is now looking up in India as wages here are low and efficiency higher as compared to China. FDI infusion will create jobs in the manufacturing sector.”

Turning to the Left parties, Mr. Sibal said: “You are multi-brand party,” adding that countries such as China, Russia and Chile had allowed 100 per cent FDI.

“Giant strides”

His counter-attack, though interrupted often by Opposition members, drew cheers from the ruling party members when he said India had made giant strides in the component industry in automobile sector and pharmaceuticals. “Today top three pharma companies are from India and without our components no car can be manufactured,” he said. All through his defence, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi were present in the Lok Sabha.

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