Friday, September 14, 2012

Let the games begin!!

The phrase “Let the games begin” is associated with Roman history and how this was used to distract the people from the various issues that the state of Rome was facing at that time. I find this whole announcement rigmarole about Retail FDI without any significant development on the ground somewhat similar.
“Government clears FDI in multi brand retail”, was the HOT news of the day. Essentially this will now allow 51% FDI by international Retail chains who have been looking forward to this for quite some time now.
The larger question is whether this is a step forward? Is there justifiable cause to cheer and plan accordingly or not?
In November 2011 when the cabinet cleared the Retail FDI proposal, I had posted about the anomalies and the constraints which might make this decision a non starter. Many if not all of those pre-conditions still exist with regard to the government’s decision and I wonder if this decision is intended to be implemented at all or just a good distraction from the several woes which are dogging the Indian economy.
Let us start with the fact that Retail is not an industry, a pet peeve of mine. The FDI decision is subject to the respective state’s willingness to allow this. I find this clause to the most ridiculous and cannot think of any other sector where this has been applied. For argument’s sake imagine if the Telecom revolution and mobile telephony was subject to such a rule. What would have happened to telecom? Ridiculous is an understatement for such a stand.
What is the logic in restricting the Retail FDI to towns with 10 Lakhs plus population? And also stating that if any state or union territory does not have any such town, then FDI is allowed in the largest/ larger town? If the old argument of protecting the small trader is being trotted out, it makes no sense at all. The fact remains that several studies have proven that the larger issue for the small trader is the lack of continuity as the next generation is usually not interested in managing these shops.
Possibly, one of the few sensible clauses in this FDI decision is that of investing 50% in the back end. However, even that is a non starter if fundamental changes are not made to key statutes and legislation like re looking at the APMC act. Now, let us consider the populist but impractical statement that states are allowed to decide whether they would allow FDI or not. State A allows FDI and stores are set up. Sourcing for many products might be from State B or C which has decided not to allow Retail FDI. As a business man would you be inclined to invest in State B or C with regard to the back end?
After this announcement the swords are drawn and the air is thick with talks of continuing support to the government. For all you know, this FDI decision might be eclipsed by an election in which case it will be back to square one.
So, Let the games begin!