Itís a policy cast in stone: Sharma

The Congress-led UPA government on Sunday defended its decision to allow foreign supermarkets to open up retail chains in India calling it a "policy cast in stone" and promised to take more reform measures even as it heads for a stormy winter session of Parliament.

Commerce and industry minister Anand Sharma told reporters on his way to Cambodia for the 10th Asean-India summit that the decision of the executive to allow 51% foreign direct investment (FDI) in multi-brand retailing does not require endorsement from the ruling party's political opponents. A high-level Indian delegation led by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh later reached Cambodia's capital Phnom Penh for the summit.

Sharma said the decision was taken in a considered manner looking at the interests of the farmer, the need for job creation and the requirement of an integrated value chain to limit agricultural produce from perishing.

"You cannot expect a government in office to have executive decisions vetted and endorsed either by ideological opponents, some of who have blinkers on, and by others who have vested interests," Sharma said while vehemently defending the recent Cabinet decision to allow foreign supermarkets like Walmart to set up retail outlets in India. "This is a policy that is cast in stone," said Sharma.

Left parties have sought a debate on the issue in both Houses of Parliament under rules that entail voting. This could prove embarrassing for the UPA regime, whose numbers have come down after the withdrawal of support by the 19-MP Trinamool Congress. The BJP also is likely to put pressure for a rollback of the decision to allow 51% FDI in multi-brand retail. The government will also have to answer questions on rising prices, sluggish economic growth and various controversies surrounding natural resources in the winter session of Parliament.

The Cabinet hopes the decision on retail will help in attracting foreign capital and, in turn, boost economic growth. "We know that the confidence of investors in India's policy regime has been reinforced with the firmness that the government has demonstrated in taking decisions," Sharma said.

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