Walmart lobbying disclosure: Oppn finds new reason to disrupt House

Walmart lobbying disclosure
Days after the defeat of motions seeking withdrawal of the decision to allow 51 per cent FDI in multi-brand retail, the opposition on Monday latched on to reports that global retail giant Walmart had spent money to lobby for entry into India to keep the issue alive.

The united opposition disrupted Rajya Sabha, demanding an investigation and a statement from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, and the BJP said it would raise the matter in Lok Sabha on Tuesday.

Claiming that "lobbying is nothing but a benign form of bribery," the BJP demanded that India exert pressure on Walmart to "reveal the names of recipients" here. It said that Walmart should not be allowed to set up shop till the conclusion of the probe. The Left parties gave similar views both inside and outside Parliament.

The Samajwadi Party, which had helped the UPA win the FDI vote in Parliament by walking out of both Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha, too demanded an inquiry.

In lobbying disclosure reports filed with the US Senate, Walmart has said that it spent close to $ 25 million since 2008 on lobbying activities, including on "enhanced market access for investment in India". On Monday, Bharti Wal-Mart issued a statement saying allegations of corruption were "entirely false", and that the amount mentioned in its disclosure is a "compilation of expenses associated with staff, association dues, consultants and contributions spent in the US".

BJP leader Ravi Shankar Prasad told reporters, "The cat is out of the bag and the proof is properly documented. Walmart has said in its lobbying disclosure report that it has been paying since 2008 for access for favourable market condition in India and Rs 125 crore has been spent.

"If Walmart can disclose to the US Senate on lobbying money, then India should exert pressure on it to reveal the names of recipients here."

In Rajya Sabha, Prasad, who is the BJP's deputy leader in the House, said, "Lobbying is illegal in India... This is bribe... The government should clarify who are the recipients... This raises serious questions on the entry (of FDI) in multi-brand retail... The entire matter should be put on hold and a probe should be carried out first to ascertain who all got money."

Outside Parliament, Prasad's party colleague Yashwant Sinha said, "It is a very, very serious issue. It has been raised in Rajya Sabha today. We propose to raise it in Lok Sabha tomorrow." Told that lobbying is not illegal in the US, Sinha said, "I know it is allowed in the US. But the laws of the two countries are different. Lobbying in the US does not mean corruption but in India, it does. That is the difference. There is illegality."

The CPM's Sitaram Yechury said in Rajya Sabha, "...Walmart itself is saying that it has spent the money. There are cases of corruption in the court. So government should inquire into it."

The entire opposition then sought an answer from the government and the Prime Minister on the "serious" issue, plunging the House into turmoil and leading to repeated adjournments. Significantly, DMK's Tiruchi Shiva too associated himself with the issue.

TMC and BJP leaders waved newspapers that had carried the reports, while CPM's P Rajeeve said there were reports that Walmart had invested in India even before FEMA had been amended. "This is a case of bribery," he said.

SP leader Mohan Singh said the "government should inquire into who are responsible for it or involved in it".

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