Opposition wants probe into 'bribe' by Wal-Mart
Barely two days after the ruling United Progressive Alliance won a vote on foreign direct investment (FDI) in multi-brand retail, the issue came back to haunt the government as the Rajya Sabha witnessed ruckus over Wal-Mart’s disclosures to the US Senate that it has spent money on lobbying for entry into Indian market.
Almost the entire Opposition, except the Bahujan Samaj Party, were up in arms as media reports said the retail chain had spent close to $25 million (about Rs 125 crore) since 2008 on lobbying activities, including on the issues related to "enhanced market access for investment in India".
In the last quarter ended September 30, 2012, the company spent $ 1.65 million (about Rs 10 crore) on lobbying, which included “discussions related to FDI in India”. As per the disclosure reports, the company has continuously lobbied for its entry into India since 2008, except for a few quarters in 2009. The issue is likely disrupt Parliament in the future.
The Opposition demanded a probe into allegations of bribery. They also sought to keep in abeyance the FDI in retail decision till the probe is over. They did not allow the Rajya Sabha to function as the government rejected their demand for a statement from the prime minister on the issue.
The entire Opposition, including the BJP, CPM, CPI, TMC, JD-U and the AIDMK was on their feet to support BJP deputy leader Ravishanakar Prasad’s demand that the government should speak on it.
“Lobbying is illegal in India. It is kind of bribery and the government should reveal who has received bribe,” Prasad said. Since the disclosure has put a question mark on the entry of multi-brand retail, the entire thing should be stopped till the probe is over.
Prasad lamented that at a time when “we are talking of floor-management,” a fund-management was going on in the US for an entry of Wal-Mart into India.
Opposition leaders Sitaram Yechury (CPM), Shivanand Tiwari (JD-U), D Raja (CPI), Sukhendu Roy (TMC), Mohan Singh (SP), Shashi Bhushan Behra (BJD) and others supported his demand.
The assurance by Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Rajeev Shukla and MoS in Personnel V Narayansamy that the minister concerned would be informed could not calm down tempers. Deputy Chairman PJ Kurien said, “Do not expect that the Prime Minister should come for everything.” The House was adjourned thrice before it was adjourned for the day.
The government rejected the demand of an enquiry. "What can we do if Wal-mart lobbies in the US? It is legally allowed there and it has nothing to do with the government of India. If the BJP wants to raise it, they can raise it in US,” Narayansamy told reporters.
However, the Opposition unity may not prove to be stable. Though the SP has supported the demand for a statement from the prime minister, it may not support a probe into lobbying expenses of Wal-Mart in India. “This is disturbing. The prime minister should come out with a statement,” said SP leader Ramgopal Yadav. BSP Leader Mayawati accused that the BJP stalled the Rajya Sabha in order to halt introduction of a Bill on quota for SC/ST in promotions.
Meanwhile, Wal-Mart said on Monday that the allegations of corruption levelled by the Opposition in the entire process “were entirely false.”
In a statement issued to the press, the Bharti-Wal-Mart said US companies were required to disclose the issues and expenditures associated with lobbying on a quarterly basis, according to their law.
“The expenditures are a compilation of expenses associated with staff, association dues, consultants, and contributions spent in the US. Our Washington office naturally had discussions with US government officials about a range of trade and investment issues that impact our businesses in the US and worldwide and disclosed this in accordance with the law,” the statement said.
In its disclosure filed with the US Senate, Walmart has said it spent close to Rs 125 since 2008 on its various lobbying activities, including on the issues related to enhanced market access for investment in India.