Wal-Mart lobbying rocks parliament, government ready for probe

Last Updated: Tue, Dec 11, 2012 14:22 hrs

New Delhi: The issue of international supermarket chain Wal-Mart lobbying in the US to open the way for FDI in retail in India rocked both houses of parliament Tuesday and the government responded it was ready for a probe and wanted to get the facts of the matter.

The Rajya Sabha also faced disruptions over a draft legislation to provide quota to the Scheduled Castes and Tribes in promotions with the Samajwadi Party steadfast in its opposition to the bill.

As the two houses began the day's sitting Tuesday morning, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) members wanted question hour to be suspended to discuss 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.

BJP MP Yashwant Sinha raised the issue in the Lok Sabha, saying "it was a matter of shame" and demanded "a time-bound judicial probe". He added that the probe's disclosures should be made public and that the BJP would continue raising the issue in parliament.

Members of the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M), Communist Party of India, Trinmool Congress, Samajwadi Party, AIADMK, Biju Janata Dal, Rashtriya Janata Dal and Janata Dal-United (JD-U) also supported the demand for a time-bound probe.

The issue was raised in the Rajya Sabha also by opposition members, including of the BJP, Left, JD-U and the Trinamool.

The house witnessed two adjournments during question hour on the issue, causing Chairman Hamid Ansari to express his anguish and suggest that it could either be shifted or dispensed with altogether as members do not seem to attach great importance to the questions.

Raising the issue in zero hour, the BJP's Venkaiah Naidu said "lobbying was practically bribery" and alleged documents showed Wal-Mart had spent money in India.

"It is a question of sovereignty of the nation," he said.

CPI-M leader Sitaram Yechury said it was a "serious matter" and his party had given a notice for short duration discussion.

Parliamentary Affairs Minister Kamal Nath said the government shared the concern of members and wanted to get the facts of the matter.

"We have no hesitation in having an inquiry in this and money spent in India. It is a matter of concern for all of us," he said and made a similar statement in the Lok Sabha.

The Rajya Sabha later witnessed fresh disruptions over the bill for reservation in promotions to the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes in the post-lunch session.

The house was adjourned twice on the issue before being adjourned for the day.

The Lok Sabha, which met at 2 p.m. following its two adjournments earlier on the Wal-Mart lobbying issue, saw members raising various demands, including for a judicial probe and a joint parliamentary committee investigation, resulting in a din in the house.

The house was first adjourned till 3 p.m. and then for the day.

Meanwhile, the Congress core group that includes Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress chief Sonia Gandhi met Tuesday morning to discuss the issues of Wal-Mart and the promotion quota bill.

Responding to the opposition's demand for inquiry into the Wal-Mart issue, Congress spokesperson Raashid Alvi said the government was in the best position to decide on the issue.

"Their allegations are baseless. The government is the best judge. It would announce an inquiry. It cannot be time-bound but will be announced as early as possible," Alvi said.

Congress sources said an announcement about the nature of inquiry may be made Wednesday.

Information and Broadcasting Minister Manish Tewari told reporters outside parliament that if the BJP or anybody else has evidence about lobbying and the money spent on it in India, it should have been made public.

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