© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: People walk past a closed Reliance Smart supermarket in Kharar
By Manoj Kumar and Aditya Kalra MOHALI, India (Reuters) – Dozens of Reliance Industries retail stores and a giant Walmart (NYSE 🙂 outlet face millions of dollars in revenue losses after being forced to close for more than three months due to protests against India. new farm laws, sources said. Thousands of farmers from states, including northern Punjab, have camped for weeks on the outskirts of the capital, in an attempt to force Prime Minister Narendra Modi to repeal laws that they claim will benefit businesses, rather than to farmers. Fears of farmer unrest in Punjab, home to many protest leaders, have stoked company fears about vandalism and employee safety, prompting dozens of stores to close, store employees and employees said. industry sources. Since October, more than half of the roughly 100 stores at the top Reliance Retail in Punjab and Walmart’s 50,000-square-foot (4,645-square-meter) wholesale outlet in the Bathinda district, a center of the protests, have closed, the sources added. “We are afraid of protesting farmers,” said a senior official at a closed Reliance store in Mohali, a thriving town in the agricultural belt. An industry source said Reliance’s estimated losses from its statewide closures run into the millions of dollars. Two other sources said that Walmart’s estimated loss of revenue from his store, one of 29 such outlets nationwide, has exceeded $ 8 million. “Farmers camp out daily in front of the Walmart store, they don’t let anyone in,” said one of the sources, adding that the store employed about 250 people. Thousands of items in the store are gathering dust and have passed their expiration date. Reliance store officials and sources, who have direct knowledge of the situation, sought anonymity as they were not authorized to speak to the media. Walmart and its Indian unit, Flipkart, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Reliance, India’s largest private company, also did not respond. Both firms can absorb the losses for now, said Ankur Bisen, head of consumer and retail at consultancy Technopak Advisors, but added: “They have to keep their fingers crossed that the closures do not spread to other states.” A Punjab official said authorities were willing to provide security but could do little if companies decided to keep their stores closed. For their part, farmers’ unions have vowed to continue protests and block shop openings, even as the Supreme Court this week ordered a temporary suspension of farm laws by setting up a panel to examine their complaints. “Our protests against companies like Reliance will continue … there is no possibility of lifting our sit-ins,” said Kulwant Singh Sandhu, an official with a protest group, the Democratic Union of Farmers. Another agricultural leader, Jagtar Singh, said protests against Reliance would continue until the government repealed the laws. India says laws passed in September will boost farmers’ incomes by allowing them to do business directly with large companies and bypass government-regulated wholesale markets. But many of the unions disagree, saying they risk losing their bargaining power and becoming vulnerable to potential wholesale buyers like Walmart and Reliance. They fear the eventual disappearance of the guaranteed prices paid by the government for their grain. Reliance, controlled by one of Asia’s wealthiest men, Mukesh Ambani, has said it would require suppliers to honor these prices, known as minimum support prices, or a similar mechanism. In December, the protests also disrupted the nearly 2,000 Reliance telecommunications towers and several gasoline pumps in Punjab. Protests along the highways linking it to New Delhi have disrupted transportation and industries such as textiles. In November, Punjab estimated the economic losses from the protests at $ 4 billion, while an industry group put the overall impact on India’s economy at $ 9.6 billion.