Political storm over Wal-Mart lobbying report: Congress, Trinamool lock horns

Political storm over Wal-Mart lobbying report: Congress, Trinamool lock horns
New Delhi:  The recent disclosures by retail giant Wal-Mart in the US that it spent millions of dollars on lobbying for various projects including entry into India, has created a political storm in the country.

The BJP had said on Monday that because lobbying is illegal in India, an inquiry must be conducted on the basis of the US report. "It appears as if a bribe was given...who was bribed? The government must explain," said BJP leader Ravi Shankar Prasad in Parliament.

The government has rejected demands by Opposition parties including the Left for an inquiry into whether the lobbying extended to government officials. "What can we do if Wal-Mart lobbies in the US?" asked minister V Narayansamy.  He added, "If the BJP wants to raise it, they can raise it in US."

The Congress too has rubbished the allegations. "The Opposition leaders are trying to make an issue out of nothing. According to American laws, giving bribes to anybody outside their country is also a criminal offence. And that is not what is reported. How the government of India anything in detail about what was reported in the American Congress. And where ifs the issue? And where is Congress running away? This is purely a political allegation," said Congress spokesperson PC Chacko.

The Trinamool Congress has, however, slammed the government. "Chacko is an articulate spokesman for Congress but unfortunately spokesman for a lost cause," Trinamool leader Saugata Roy said.

The US has, meanwhile, said that Wal-Mart did not violate any American law as far as the matter is concerned. "We've seen these press reports. With regard to lobbying in the US, I think you know that the Lobby Disclosure Act of 1995 and the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2007 requires lobbyists for any company or organisation to disclose its activities in a periodic report to Congress," State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said. (Read)

Wal-Mart has also denied of being involved in any wrongdoing. "These allegations are entirely false. In accordance with US law, US companies are required to disclose the issues and expenditures associated with lobbying on a quarterly basis.  The expenditures are a compilation of expenses associated with staff, association dues, consultants, and contributions spent in the United States. 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," said a spokesperson for Bharti Wal-Mart. (Read)

In the US, Wal-Mart has disclosed that it spent 25 million dollars or Rs. 125 crores in the last four years on lobbying for various projects including "enhanced market access for investment in India."

Last week, the government won a vote in Parliament on its decision to allow Foreign Direct Investment or FDI in retail. That law was introduced by the government in September.

Parliamentary approval was not needed for the new policy, but the opposition refused to let Parliament function till the government's decision was tested with a vote.

The Prime Minister staked his government in September by allowing FDI in retail as a symbol of his commitment to major economic reforms. Key ally Mamata Banerjee quit the ruling coalition over his decision. Her Trinamool Congress and other parties said that FDI in retail was introduced as a law after the government was reduced to a minority, and must therefore be put to a test in Parliament.

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