In a surprise move, the Government today offered to hold an inquiry into allegations of payment made by US retail giant Wal-Mart in India but it did not much ice with the Opposition which demanded a time-bound probe by either a Joint Parliamentary Committee or judiciary.
The issue of Wal-Mart making disclosures to the US Senate that it had spent USD 25 million over four years for various lobbying activities, including for gaining access to Indian markets, continued to rock Parliament which was disrupted for the second day today.
UPA's outside supporters RJD and Samajwadi Party, which had last week bailed out the ruling coalition in FDI in retail matter, were among those who demanded a thorough probe into reports that money was spent in India.
In a tactical move, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Kamal Nath sought to take the wind out of Opposition sails by announcing Government's intention to order a probe as BJP sought suspension of the Question Hour in both houses by raking up the issue.
"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 in the Rajya Sabha.
"We too have learnt about the disclosures by Wal- Mart. 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.
While Government has been maintaining that Wal-Mart's disclosures related to payments in US for lobbying which is legal there, today's decision could be related to earlier disclosures by the US giant that it was inquiring into payments made in some countries including India that violated American laws.
Nath made an identical statement in Lok Sabha but the Opposition continued to shout slogans prompting Speaker Meira Kumar to adjourn the House till 2 pm. The House saw further adjournments before the Chair called it a day.
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.
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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