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Walmart lobbying issue rocks Parliament for second day

New Delhi, Dec 11: The Walmart lobbying issue rocked Parliament for the second day today, prompting government to declare that it had no hesitation in ordering a probe into reports that the retail giant had
PTI December 12, 2012 18:37 IST
New Delhi, Dec 11: The Walmart lobbying issue rocked Parliament for the second day today, prompting government to declare that it had no hesitation in ordering a probe into reports that the retail giant had spent money to further its case in India.

“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,” Parliamentary Affairs Minister Kamal Nath said in the Lok Sabha seeking to douse the Opposition ire on the issue.

The government “views the reports (on Walmart) with the utmost concern,” Nath said.

His statement came close on the heels of senior BJP leader Yashwant Sinha demanding a time-bound judicial inquiry into the reports that Walmart engaged lobbying firms to get entry into India and “spent money here”.

The inquiry should be completed within 60 days and people should know who has been bribed and how much has he got, Sinha said amid cries of ‘shame, shame' from the Opposition benches.

Noting that there have been “gross financial irregularities” in Walmart 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 BJP leader 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.

UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi was seen nudging Leader of the Lok Sabha Sushilkumar Shinde to make an announcement that Kamal Nath would be making a statement on the Walmart issue.

Nath said, “We have learnt from press reports of the reported disclosure by Wal-Mart under US laws on amounts spent by them on lobbying in various countries, including India.

“The government views this with utmost concern and has no hesitation in ordering an enquiry on this in as much as it concerns payments made in India,” the Minister said.

Making an almost identical statement in the Rajya Sabha, Nath said, “We too have learnt about the disclosures by Walmart.  The government views this with concern and have no hesitation in having an inquiry. We want to get to the facts of the matter.

“Government is not running away on this concern. We are open for a discussion. This is not a matter of concern for the Opposition, it is also a matter of concern for the government.  It is for all of us. We are open for a probe.”

He said he would come out with a detailed statement later in the day.

The matter was raised in the Upper House by BJP member M Venkaiah Naidu who demanded an independent probe into the issue and the matter be discussed in the House.

“It is a question of our nation's sovereignty. It is a shameful act. We have to have a detailed discussion,” Naidu said, adding the matter was even more serious if the money was spent in the US for lobbying in India.

Demanding a probe, senior CPI(M) leader Sitaram Yechury said this was “a serious matter. This is something unacceptable” and announced that he would move a notice for a short-duration discussion on the issue.

As the din continued, Ansari adjourned the House for 30 minutes and again adjourned it till noon as similar scenes continued.
SP, which had bailed out the government during the vote on a motion against FDI in multi-brand retail,  has also pressed for a judicial probe into the issue.

RJD, which also supported the government on FDI issue, demanded a JPC probe into Walmart's disclosure.

Terming as shameful the company's disclosure before the US Senate that it had spent Rs 125 crore for lobbying in India, members said only an independent probe can find out who actually took the money from the retail giant.

While several members demanded setting up a JPC, some others favoured a judicial probe which is time-bound.

Yashwant Sinha (BJP), who demanded a time-bound judicial probe, said the government should announce today itself whether it wanted to set up a JPC or order a judicial probe.

Demanding an early response from the government, members from BJP, Trinamool Congress, Left parties, AIADMK and JD(U) trooped into the Well forcing adjournment of the House for 30 minutes and later for the day.

SP members did not join the protest in the Well but were 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.