New Delhi: Communications and Information Technology Minister Kapil Sibal on Tuesday strongly punched holes in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)'s argument of not allowing foreign direct investment (FDI) in multi-brand retail.
"In 2004, the BJP in its vision document supported FDI in retail. Mr. Jaswant Singh said on April 12, 2004 - it is part of our agenda and we are committed to it. Many said KFC will drive the 'dhabas' out of the market. 'Dhabas' have driven out KFC. Don't underestimate Indian brands...," said Sibal.
"Now, that you are not in power, you have changed your stance. How will that foreign investment come in? Please tell us," he added, while citing the BJP's 2004 election manifesto.
Sibal said the debate on FDI in retail was unnecessary, and lashed out at the BJP for making exaggerated and wrong comments on the issue.
He said that the government has come out with a policy that gives state governments the freedom to decide themselves whether they will or will not allow FDI in retail.
"I don't think this discussion was necessary. It is merely from a political standpoint. The government decided that FDI will be allowed in cities with a population of more than 10 lakhs - there are only 53 cities that meet this criteria," Sibal said.
"Then, we were told by certain, especially opposition-ruled states, who did not want FDI in retail in those states. If you exclude these, only 18 cities remain...So, if FDI is implemented in 18 cities, it is an exaggeration to say the country will be sold, WalMart will occupy the country and so on..," he added.
Sibal said many states want FDI in retail, and accused the opposition of levelling baseless allegations that FDI is a sell-out
" My question is if the chief ministers and the people of a state want to implement FDI in their state then how can you (the Opposition) constitutionally stop them from going ahead with such implementation.
Questioning the politics of the opposition, Sibal said its mantra was: "Hum toh doobenge sanam, tumko bhi le doobenge."
"If any state doesn't want to implement, then don't implement FDI. All these talks of the opposition are exaggerated," he added.
Sibal also said it is foolish to say that the presence of foreign retailers will kill small retailers in Indian cities.
"Initially, retail FDI will be implemented in 18 cities, and it will be foolish to say that by implementing in 18 cities, the small retailers will be in trouble," he said.
Sibal also said that the BJP is championing the cause of moneylenders and middlemen, which led Sushma Swaraj to stage a vociferous protest.
"Purpose of the policy is that the farmers should get a higher price for their produce than they get in the mandi (wholesale market). It will abolish middlemen system," he said citing an example in a West Bengal district where MNC Pepsico procured potato directly from farmers.
He said commission agents are the real beneficiaries in the present system and farmers get only 15 to 17 per cent amount for their produce.
"They (opposition) have to understand whether they are with the middlemen.... You are with the middlemen," Sibal said amid vociferous protests by opposition.
He said the policy will strengthen the country's infrastructure sector.
"The foreign investor has to invest USD 100 million out of which USD 50 million has to be invested for infrastructure development," he said.
Sibal said the country's small scale industry sector will benefit from the policy as there is a provision that 30 per cent of procurement should be done from this sector.
"If he (the investor) doesn't get it from MSME sector, he will lose it," the senior Congress leader said.