SC poser to centre on retail FDI impact

New Delhi, Jan 22 (IANS) In a poser to the government whether it had factored in the apprehension of small traders before allowing FDI in multi-brand retail sector, the Supreme Court Tuesday wondered if the decision was a "political gimmick".

"Have you brought FDI as a political gimmick or has it borne any fruits," asked the apex court bench of Justice R.M. Lodha and Justice S.J. Mukhopadhaya, while asking the central government to file its response to a petition filed by advocate M.L. Sharma claiming that the entry of the multi-national companies would hurt the livelihood of 35 crore Indians.

Asking Attorney General G.E. Vahanvati to file response to the petition in three weeks, Justice Lodha said: "Our exercise is confined to constitutional principles. We don't want to substitute government policies."

Vahanvati told the court that two resolutions negating the foreign direct investment (FDI) tabled in both houses of parliament were rejected.

Justice Mukhopadshaya asked "what affect the FDI will have on other traders. Will it affect the free trade of small traders and affect their fundamental right to trade".

As the attorney general sought to impress upon the court that it was a policy decision thereby suggesting that the courts could not interfere, Justice Lodha asked "what are the checks you have put in place to ensure (there was) no restrictions on free trade".

Justice Mukhopadhaya said: "Policy is one thing. Apprehension is another thing. That (apprehension) is a serious threat. There is apprehension in the mind of the people that it will affect the free trade."

"We have seen big traders bring down the prices to the detriment of the small traders and eliminate them from the market. After some time they increase the prices. They resort to such unfair trade practices," Justice Mukhopadhaya observed.

"What have you done to prevent this," he asked.

Continuing with queries on apprehensions of small traders, Justice Mukhopadhaya said: "Reform is one thing. You should not close the door for small traders. What have you done for small traders," Justice Mukhopadhaya said.

"If retailers are there consumers have choice. If they (retailers) are out, they (consumers) don't have a choice," he said.

Adjourning the matter by five weeks, the court gave two week to petitioner to file his reply to government's response.

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