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Traders want a major role in policy matters, representation in committees

Karan Choudhury & Subhayan Chakraborty/Bengaluru/New Delhi 15 Jun 19 | 02:03 AM

After helping the Narendra Modi-led National Democratic Allliance (NDA) government secure a massive mandate in the Lok Sabha elections, traders now want a bigger say, especially in retail policy matters. 

They also want representation in various committees that the government forms from time to time on issues ranging from e-commerce policy, data localisation, fintech initiatives as well as foreign direct investment (FDI) norms.

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For a long time, traders’ bodies have believed that they have been short changed by the government when it comes to taking their views on policy matters.  Committees that are formed by the government on issues around retail policies and FDI norms have representation from industry bodies, including the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) and the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (Ficci), as well as e-commerce firms such as Paytm, MakeMyTrip, Ola and Cleartrip.

But they rarely have any representation from various trader bodies in the country.

“It is regretted that so far traders were neglected in the representation in different boards and committees of the government. It is strongly demanded that following the principle of participatory governance, traders should be given representation. About seven crore traders are providing employment to 30 crore people and generating an annual turnover of about 45 trillion. They are an important constituent of the economy and deserve their place in policy making bodies and other forums," said Praveen Khandelwal, national general secretary of the Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT).

The clout that trader bodies such as CAIT and other such organisations such as Swadeshi Jagran Manch (SJM) and Laghu Udyog Bharati has is steadily increasing. Earlier this year, trader bodies were able to convince the government not to extend the deadline for implementation of the new norms in FDI policy on e-commerce. 

This came after global giants such as Walmart and Amazon India made multiple pleas to the commerce ministry convincing it to extend the deadline.   After the new cabinet was formed and portfolios distributed, it is CAIT representatives who have been able to meet finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman, even before industry leaders as well as companies such as Amazon and Flipkart. 

CAIT released a white paper on goods and services tax to the finance minister. On Friday, representatives met Union minister Smriti Irani and gave her a list of problems related to the textiles trade in the country.  

Deciding on the composition of a stakeholder meeting or a committee has been a contentious issue for years. Over the past three years, the commerce ministry has increasingly expanded the list of industry bodies, export agencies and think-tanks that are called for inputs regarding policy.

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However, during wide ranging discussions on the industry policy, e-commerce policy and those on foreign trade and the micro and small industries sector, acrimony has ensued among various groups on being called to the talks table.

Ministry officials confirmed that there exists no set procedure for selecting stakeholders. “As a result, senior officials use discretionary powers to extend invitation to groups that seem to have the requisite grasp and impact on the sector," one official said.

Smaller trader bodies, with a growing membership base in tier-II and tier-III cities, have repeatedly clashed with Delhi-based national bodies which mostly comprise urban entrepreneurs in the industrial and technology space.

Many of these disputes have been issue based. Weeks before the Budget is set to be tabled, the FICCI has again pushed for allowing liberalised norms for FDI in multi brand retail.

SJM has protested the push. “This move will only help major companies, those who are already flush with cash," a senior SJM functionary said.

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