Britain's biggest clothing retailer, Marks & Spencer Group Plc., is planning to set up a joint venture in India, the Economic Times reported on Monday.

The newspaper, citing unnamed sources, said that three or four Indian firms are interested in working with Marks & Spencer in the venture, which will be 51 percent owned by the British firm.

Marks & Spencer, which has about 20 franchises operated by India's Planet Retail, will also sell food and home furnishings under the new format, the paper added.

Earlier this month, Marks & Spencer Chief Executive Stuart Rose said the company was looking to expand into the Indian market, with a focus on cities like New Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore. He also announced plans to enter China on a wholly owned rather than a franchise basis.

India's $350 billion retail industry - dominated by mom-and pop stores - is expected to double by 2015. India allows single-brand retailers to own up to 51 percent in a joint venture with a local firm. Multiple-brand retailers are restricted to franchise and licence operations.

In separate developments, French furniture maker Gautier and retail giant Carrefour have reportedly detailed plans on Monday to set up operations in the subcontinent as well.

Gautier said Monday it will enter the Indian retail market by year-end, with a range of furniture for children and infants. It is looking to open outlets ranging from 20,000 to 40,000 square feet, and is scouting around for a local partner for a joint venture.

The escalating lifestyle aspirations of the new-age Indian consumers along with the retail industry boom sweeping through the country has prompted our company to seriously look at establishing its presence in the Indian market, Gautier Chairman M. Dominique Soulard said in a statement.

Also Monday, the head of Carrefour was quoted as saying it would choose an Indian supermarket partner early next year and plans to launch a cash and carry venture under its own brand in 2009.

Carrefour has identified two or three potential partners and plans to make a final decision in the first quarter of 2008, Chief Executive Jose Louis Duran told La Tribune newspaper.

Earlier this year, world's largest retail chain, Wal-Mart Stores Inc., signed a joint venture with India's Bharti Enterprises for a wholesale cash-and-carry operation. Germany's Metro AG and Shoprite Holdings also have cash-and-carry stores in the country.

In recent times, the entry of foreign retailers and large local firms have triggered political concerns and protests by small shop owners.

On Monday, Sir Richard Branson, the Virgin Group chairman, said that India made foreign business people unwelcome and described it as one of the world's most protectionist countries.