Indian street vendors attack retail chain's stores

RANCHI, India, May 12 (Reuters) - Indian street vendors armed with iron rods and sticks attacked three stores owned by Reliance Industries Ltd. on Saturday, injuring around a dozen people in a protest against the large food retailer.

It was one of the most serious cases of unrest linked to the entrance of large, glitzy retail chains into India’s fragmented $200 billion food and grocery sector, which small shop owners see as a threat to their customers.

About a dozen vendors and Reliance customers were hurt in the eastern city of Ranchi when around 1,000 vegetable sellers smashed the windows of three of the chain’s stores and damaged customers’ vehicles.

Police used bamboo canes to chase the protesters away.

“The vegetable vendors are agitated because Reliance outlets are selling vegetables at prices which are much lower than the market price and are driving away their customers,” said local government official Dipankar Panda.

Reliance Retail Ltd., a subsidiary of Reliance Industries, is investing $5.6 billion in hundreds of stores. Officials of the firm were not immediately available for comment.

The company, already India’s top private oil refiner and petrochemical maker, is at the lead of the large chain stores that are storming into Indian organised retail, which now makes up only about 5 percent of the retail market.

Since launching its retail operations last year, Reliance has more than 90 fresh vegetable and food stores. It expects to start opening hypermarkets in the next few months.

Other big Indian firms are planning to enter the fast-growing market and foreign players like Britain’s Tesco and Wal-Mart are also interested.

Street vendors, fearing that may spell doom for their livelihoods, said they would fight the competition.

“Customers are not coming to the market now. We will not allow this to happen,” said vegetable vendor Sushil Tiwari in Ranchi. “This is the only resort we have now.” (Additional reporting by Prithwish Ganguly in NEW DELHI)