NRI storeowners join hands to fight legal battle in US | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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NRI storeowners join hands to fight legal battle in US

PTI | ByLalit K Jha (HindustanTimes.com), Tampa (florida)
Jul 13, 2005 05:18 PM IST

In the first ever convention at Tampa, storeowners resolved to work for a common cause, reports Lalit K Jha.

About six months ago Awdesh Mishra, who owns a local convenience store at Plant City -- some 25 miles east of Tampa city in the coastal Florida of the United States - was robbed.

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Mishra, who came to the U.S. about six year ago from his hometown Gwalior in Madhya Pradesh, did lodge a complaint with the local authorities and the police. "But, this did not work," he claims. No one came to his help, he rues.

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This, possibly, has now become history. Unorganized, so far, the Asian convenience store owners of the U.S., who are predominantly Indians and mainly Gujaratis, held their first ever convention at Tampa July 9, resolving to work together for a common cause to help each other.

"Individually, we are isolated. We feel lonely in this nation and can be subject to any type of discrimination or injustice. From today, we represent a force to recon in the U.S., with a joint purchasing power of $80 billion (about Rs. 3,600 crores) per annum," Satya Shaw, president, Asian Americans Convenience Stores Association, told HindustanTimes.com, after the first annual convention.

Statistically, their purchasing power is double that of the Asian American Hotel Owners Association (AAHOA).

Formed in the aftermath of the "Operation Meth Merchant" in Atlanta in which some 43 Gujaratis were arrested by the police on the charges of allegedly selling substances used in the illegal manufacture of the methamphetamine (meth), a highly addictive substance, Shaw said this was because of ignorance and lack of legal knowledge among the Indian convenience store owners.

Of the nearly 1.3 million convenience store owners in the United more than 80,000 are Indian and majority of who are Gujaratis. Referring to the increasing crime rate against the Indian convenience store owners in the U.S., he said in his inaugural address: "There is an urgent need to organize ourselves."

Claiming that on an average 100 people (Indian convenience store owners) die every year due to robbery and other crime related incident, Shaw alleged that the police did nothing in majority of these cases. "Now, we would not let this happen," he said.

Talking to HindustanTimes.com after the conference the Association chairman, Chandra Patel, said they have started negotiating with several eminent manufacturers on prices of products to be supplied to the convenience stores. "With such massive purchasing power, we can negotiate for more discounts from these people," said Patel, who last month was elected as president of the Overseas Friends of the BJP, U.S.

In such circumstances a convenience store owner can make an additional saving of $500 to $1,000 per month.

Gracing the occasion as chief guest the Florida Attorney General, Charlie Christie, in his speech congratulated the convenience store owners of forming the association. In fact, a glittery of Indian community leaders had gathered on the occasion signifying importance of the events.

Christie is the number two men in then Florida Government after the Governor Jeb Bush - the brother of the President George Bush. Christie has already announced his decision to run for the next Governor election.

"It was long due. I happy that this has finally happened," said Akshay Desai, the White House Commissioner on Health, who specially came in to attend the convention. "This would help in curtailing crime against them (the convenience store owners)," he hoped.

Addressing the gathering, whose attendance in the morning was affected by the Dennis hurricane, Subramanian Swamy, who is here on a Harvard teaching assignment, urged the Convenience Stores Association to constitute an advisory civil liberties committee so as to defend themselves through attorneys and lawyers when needed.

Referring to a figure from the National Association of Convenience Stores, Swamy said the gas retailers lost $234 million in theft alone during 2004, double the figure in 2003. There is an urgent need to reverse the present trend, he felt.

A second-generation eminent Indo-American lawyer, Nikhil Joshi, even came forward to help them in such legal matters. A board member of Hindu American Foundation, Joshi, has been helping those affected by the Operation Meth Merchant.

Among other important Indian community leaders were Asian American Hotel Owners Association chairman, M. P. Rama and the convenience store gain tog New York, H. R. Shah. "All this signifies, how much the Indo-American community cares for convenience store owners," said Patel.

In fact this is for the first time that this unorganized sector has been brought together on one platform, he claimed.

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