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Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Walmart lobbying: BJP wants JPC probe

The government has no hesitation in holding an inquiry on reports of Walmart lobbying in the US to open the way for foreign equity in retail trade in India, parliamentary affairs minister Kamal Nath told Parliament on Tuesday. Amid ruckus in both Houses of Parliament with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) demanding an explanation from the government on the issue, Kamal Nath assured members that the government was 'concerned over the issue'. 'We have no hesitation in having an inquiry in this and money spent in India. We are open for a discussion and this is matter of concern for the government,' he told both Houses of Parliament. 'We want to get to the facts of the matter. I would during course of the day make further announcements towards this,' he added. Both the Houses were disrupted with the BJP demanding a discussion on Wal-Mart reportedly spending Rs.125 crore on lobbying activities in the US, including on issues related to enhanced market access for investment in India. Earlier in the day, reports of Wal-Mart engaging lobbying firms to get entry into India and demand for quota in promotion in government jobs rocked Parliament leading to washout of Question Hour in both Houses. In the Lok Sabha, as soon as Speaker Meira Kumar took up the Question Hour, members of BSP, Left parties and Trinamool Congress trooped into the Well raising slogans demanding inquiry into reports of lobbying by Wal-Mart and status of probe in the coal block allocation. BJP members were on their feet demanding that the Speaker suspend Question Hour and ask the government to reply on the lobbying issue.The uproar continued even as the Speaker made repeated appeals for allowing the Question Hour to continue. Her assurances of allowing members to raise the issues during Question Hour also failed to cut any ice with the agitating members.As the din continued, the Speaker adjourned the House till noon and later till 2pm. In the Rajya Sabha, BJP members were up on their feet soon after Chairman Hamid Ansari made an obituary reference to former member G Swaminathan.Within minutes, BJP members raised the issue of reported lobbying by Wal-Mart and SP members were objecting to the proposed move to provide reservations to SC/ST in promotion in government jobs. When repeated efforts failed, Ansari said a situation has arisen where 'the chair has to watch helplessly' frequent disruption of Question Hour.He said he proposed to call meeting of the Rules Committee and suggest shifting the Question Hour or dispense with it all together.Ansari then adjourned the House for 30 minutes. When the House reassembled, similar scenes were witnessed and the Chair adjourned it till noon.Seeking to put pressure on the government on the Walmart lobbying issue, BJP today said it was determined to raise the matter in both Houses of Parliament and seek suspension of Question Hour.'We will raise in both Houses reports of Wal-Mart spending huge money to lobby for entry the Indian market. While Yashwant Sinha will raise the issue in Lok Sabha, M Venkaiah Naidu will raise it in Rajya Sabha today,' the party's chief spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad told reporters after a BJP Parliamentary Party meeting here.He said the party wants an independent probe into the whole affair to ascertain the facts as to who were the beneficiaries of the amount spent by Walmart on lobbying for entry into India Naidu told reporters outside Parliament House that the party would not allow the Question Hour to function if the government did not meet its demand.'We will seek suspension of Question Hour in both Houses of Parliament today,' he said. Prasad said that the money spent on lobbying was spent in India and not in the US. 'We have the right to know who were the beneficiaries of this money spent on lobbying,' he said. BJP had yesterday raised the issue in Rajya Sabha, forcing two adjournments. 'The main opposition party was supported by CPI-M, CPI, SP, JD-U, Trinamool Congress, AGP and AIADMK, whose members demanded a probe, saying 'corruption' has come to the fore.'Walmart has in its lobbying disclosure report to the US Senate said it has spent Rs. 125 crore on lobbying and USD three million have been spent in 2012 itself for entering the Indian market. 'Lobbying is illegal in India. Lobbying is a kind of bribe. If Walmart has said that hundreds of crores of rupees were spent in India, then it is a kind of bribe. The government should tell who was given this bribe. This raises a question mark on the implementation of FDI in retail,' Prasad said.

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