Malls Mauled

15 Oct 2007

Violent protests, clashes with the police, appeals to local governments—that was the reaction when dozens of large new shopping malls were opened by Reliance Retail in West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh, India, forcing them to close after a few hours.

Were these Indian small farmers and shopkeepers crazy, venting their anger against modern shopping malls and spurning the opportunity to buy a huge array of goods in such convenient places, so welcoming for the whole family?

Imagine such a thing happening here in Italy, where not even children are spared the proliferation of these megastructures where you can buy everything: a camping table or diapers, fish or a newspaper, a toy or beer.

It’s hard to envisage a popular protest isn’t it?

Local authorities—even those boasting their slow credentials—are quite happy to authorize this essential service for their citizens and welcome the equally essential revenue brought into their coffers.

The public then dutifully queue up with their cars and pour into the teeming car parks, which in the evening become empty cement deserts. A bit different to shopping in the town center, strolling round small shops and the market.

The public buy everything they need in shopping malls: they grab the garden shears on special while waiting to buy some steak (which comes from who knows where), they can’t resist a track suit, practically given away, while they make for the just unfrozen bread on the last counter at the far end of the store.

How convenient it is to have everything so handy, what can those Indian farmers be so worked up about?

It seems that the Indians are angry because ‘shopping malls destroy the domestic agricultural economy with prices of basic foodstuffs reduced to a minimum’ (because they have a strong ultra-centralized distribution system based on economies of scale). The farmers are worried that the large chains ‘will impose their prices, squeeze out small producers and the local sales network’.

It means the disappearance of the small farmers who look after the local land and the loss of many small-scale local economies based on rich Indian biodiversity. Customers lose out too because ‘they lose purchasing power, they are subject to the wishes of sellers exercising almost monopoly power’.

No, these things don’t happen here. They never have.

First printed in La Stampa on September 9 2007

Adapted by Ronnie Richards

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