Govt gives in on Walmart

New Delhi, Dec. 11: The government today agreed to institute an inquiry into the allegations of money spent on lobbying by retail giant Walmart but differences over the nature of probe forced disruptions in both Houses of Parliament.

While the Opposition fought for a time-bound investigation by a joint parliamentary committee, the government appeared reluctant to accept this and was contemplating announcement of some sort of an enquiry tomorrow.

The top Congress leadership met this morning and felt that the JPC demand was aimed at keeping the issue alive politically only to undermine the government's victory in the FDI vote.

Amidst ruckus by the Opposition, parliamentary affairs minister Kamal Nath said, "The government is as much concerned as the House and has no hesitation in having a probe into this. We want to get to the facts of this matter. This is not a matter of concern for just the Opposition, it is a concern for all of us."

He promised to announce a mechanism for enquiry later in the day but the plan got derailed as the Opposition stuck to the JPC demand even as the BJP was open to the idea of a judicial probe.

Sources in the government said the top leadership of the Congress was "aghast" by the "irresponsible and slanderous" attack by the Opposition "which also smacked of lack of understanding of the processes of business and law in the United States."

While many members bluntly accused the government of taking bribe for allowing foreign retailers, some argued even the vote in Parliament was manipulated by Walmart.

Information and broadcasting minister Manish Tewari lamented the BJP's tendency to make an allegation without verifying the facts and start believing it to be true only because it suits their political agenda. Other senior ministers said the Opposition was desperate to water down the government's FDI victory and hence this issue was blown out of proportion despite the fact that no evidence of bribery in India was available.

Congress spokesperson Rashid Alvi said, "The Opposition believes one part of Walmart statement but disbelieves the other part. They disclosed the lobbying expenses but also said nothing illegal had been done and no bribe was paid in India."

Bharti Walmart also denied allegations that it had spent money in India to gain market access here. A statement issued by them yesterday said, "These allegations are entirely false. The expenditures are a compilation of expenses associated with staff, association dues, consultants and contributions spent in the US. Our Washington office naturally had discussions with US government officials about a range of trade and investment issues that impact our businesses in the US and worldwide and disclosed this in accordance with the law."

But members wantonly indulged in reckless offensive in Parliament, giving a ridiculous dimension to the disclosure in the US.

While CPI's Gurdas Dasgupta said "my heart beats in shame as I am an Indian," BJP's Yashwant Sinha declared, "this area is called Lutyen's Delhi. This has come true now. Those in power are only looting, it should be renamed Loot-eyan's Delhi."