Oppn stalls Parliament over Walmart 'lobbying' report

The issue of retail giant Wal-Mart lobbying in the US for access to Indian markets led to a storm in Parliament for the second straight day today with parties demanding time-bound probe by a Joint Parliamentary Committee or a judicial panel to ascertain if bribe was paid here.

UPA's outside supporters RJD and Samajwadi Party, which last week bailed out the ruling coalition in FDI in retail matter, were among those demanding a thorough probe into reports that money was spent in India.

The demand for JPC probe was made by BJP, JD(U), AIADMK, Trinamool Congress, RJD and CPI while SP sought a judicial inquiry as they contended that the country had been put to shame. They insisted that the probe should be time-bound.

The uproar over this issue, coupled with the SP's opposition to a bill on providing reservation to SCs/STs in government job promotions, prevented both Houses of Parliament from undertaking any significant business.

BJP leader Yashwant Sinha said in the Lok Sabha that the government should order JPC or even judicial probe, failing which the House would not be allowed to function.

The demands were made even after Parliamentary Affairs Minister Kamal Nath said the government "views the reports (on Wal-Mart) with the utmost concern" and would not hesitate to order a probe to unravel facts of the matter.

"We have no hesitation in having an inquiry to get to the facts of the matter. We will announce further steps in the House today," Nath said in the Lok Sabha while seeking to placate the Opposition.

Wal-Mart had, in its disclosures to the US Senate, said it had spent USD 25 million over four years for various lobbying activities, including for gaining access to Indian markets.

Sinha said there were reports that Wal-Mart engaged lobbying firms to get entry into India and "spent money here".

Amid cries of 'shame, shame' from the Opposition benches, the BJP leader demanded inquiry and said it should be completed within 60 days as people should know who has been bribed and who got how much.

Contending that there have been "gross financial irregularities" in Wal-Mart leading to suspension of its Chief Financial Officer in India and seven other officers and a probe is on against them in the US, Sinha said, "This has sullied the dignity of our country."

"These disclosures have made it clear that they have given money to people here to gain entry in India. An inquiry is going on in the US on this issue. But there is no inquiry in India. People have taken money and are sitting tight," the former External Affairs Minister said.

Trouble broke out when Speaker Meira Kumar asked members to associate themselves with Sinha and called Kamal Nath to respond. This led to Left and Trinamool Congress members, who had submitted adjournment notices on the issue, to storm the Well demanding that they too be allowed to speak.

The issue created uproar in the Rajya Sabha too which saw two adjournments with BJP members, supported by members of the Left parties and Trinamool Congress, raising the issue.

In the Lok Sabha, members from BJP, Trinamool Congress, Left parties, AIADMK and JD(U) demanded an early response from the government and trooped into the Well. They wanted to know if money was paid to anyone in India and that they should be exposed.

SP members were also on their feet demanding a probe. BSP members were not seen in the House.

"Lobbying is not illegal in the US, but it is called 'commission' here. It is illegal. It is bribery," Basudeb Acharia (CPI-M) said.

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