” Why the hue & cry over ‘ Walmart’ ? Many of India Inc’s big ones are no strangers to lobbying in the U.S..?”
There is a very fine line that separates lobbying from bribery, and there are diverse opinions on what kind of influential pressure on lawmakers qualifies as acceptable, and what doesn’t. Quite clearly, bribery is illegal and unacceptable, there is nothing wrong in lobbying per se — at least not from the legal standpoint.
So, what is lobbying ?
According to the Oxford dictionary, the word “lobby” means “a group of people seeking to influence legislators on a particular issue.” Indian lawmakers are aware that governments across the world lobby for their business interests all the time. The Indian government does it, if often poorly. Indian business houses lobby governments in India as well as overseas frequently.
At present, the only law that has some relevance to lobbying is Section 7 of the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988, which makes it illegal for a “public servant to take gratification other than legal remuneration” in respect of an official Act.
Why it’s in the news ?
The word “lobbying” again acquired a whole new dimension and notoriety after the disclosure that Walmart had spent close to $25 million (approximately Rs 135 crore) on lobbying activities, including on issues related to “ enhanced market access for investment in India ”.
The word grabbed much space in national media after the disclosure of the recorded phone conversations of corporate lobbyist Nira Radia in 2G spectrum scandal case.
Who do lobbyists work for ?
The big industrial houses employ high-profile lobbyists to try and influence government policies and appointments for their own advantage. The question is what are the chambers of commerce and industry doing most of the time? The one-word simple answer is: lobbying.
A case of U.S vs India :
Under U.S laws, companies, individuals and even foreign countries are allowed to lobby before the Congress and various wings of the U.S government. And to facilitate the process, they are required to either hire the services of registered lobbyists or employ them, who then, on behalf of the firms or entities go to the offices of lawmakers, policymakers, meet either the congressmen or government officials with a set of presentations and policy papers reflecting their views. Violation of the complex and extensive lobbying regulations can lead to penalties and even jail.
In 2010, corporate affairs minister Salman Khurshid said that his ministry was in talks with other departments of the government on the issue of “regularising” lobbying. The Planning Commission of India had set up an expert committee to look into the issue of lobbying.
What’s the remedy ?
Experts say the government’s laid-back attitude will make the matter worse. After the recent disclosure by Walmart the profession has earned a bad name. In India, most lobbyists are former bureaucrats, public relations professionals, lawyers, corporate affairs executives and former journalists. Probably, a law — which will strictly regulate lobbying — will help change that perception. It is high time to have a regulatory structure on the lines of the U.S Lobbying Disclosure Act to clean up the entire process.
Can India be far behind ?
Documents with the U.S House of Representatives reveal at least 27 Indian companies have over the years spent thousands of dollars on lobbying in the U.S – for issues ranging from visa to exploring defence market.
A list of some of the prominent names –
Ranbaxy: Paid $90,000 to the lobbying firm Patton Boggs for issues including “Preserve Access to Affordable Generics”, according to a document registered in 2010.
Tata Sons: Roped in Cohen Group for lobbying for issues described as “market research in the automotive, defence and energy sectors”, shows a document from 2007 that does not mention the amount.
Reliance Industries: Became a client of the lobbyist Barbour, Griffith & Rogers, according to a 2009 document, on the unspecified issue of “TRD”, which could mean trade.
Wipro: The firm spent $33,000 on lobbyist Melanie Carter-Maguire on issues relating to trade and visa. The company roped in a lobbyist firm this year, too, but the amount involved has not been mentioned.
Some other names, software body Nasscom and the Gems & Jewellery Export Promotion Council have also been listed.
(so what’s your reading on this subject ? pls comment / provide your inputs..? )…