The Indian prime minister has defended the easing of rules on foreign ownership in the country's retail market, as politicians opposed to the move continue to cripple parliament.

Speaking at a meeting for the youth wing of his Congress party yesterday (29 November), Manmohan Singh said the reforms, which allow 51% foreign ownership of multi-brand retail stores will ultimately benefit India.

He said: "We have not taken this decision in any haste but after a lot of consideration. It is our firm conviction that the decision will benefit our country.

"We believe that it will bring modern technology to the country, improve rural infrastructure, reduce wastage of agricultural produce and enable our farmers to get better prices for their crops."

He was speaking of waste in the Indian food supply chain, which analysts estimate is responsible for around 40% of goods not reaching market.

However, opposition groups are furious about the changes, claiming India's small retailers will suffer if the likes of Tesco, Carrefour and Wal-Mart Stores move in.

Their protests have forced parliament to repeatedly abandon proceedings, and they say the disruption will continue until the decision is reversed.

Singh also reiterated that each state in the federal country will be allowed to opt out of the policy. "There will be no coercion. The states which think it is not fruitful can choose not to allow foreign shops in their states," he added.