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Much Ado about Lobbying.

India, Dec. 30 -- In our country, any issue is good enough to be raised or not. After it has been raised, everything is forgotten. Now the latest is the demand of certain political parties to reveal the names of the recipients of money spent by Wal-Mart on lobbying their case in India.

Obviously, on the face of it, at least some parties have given an impression of maintaining high level of morality on issues of bribery and corruption. However, it is a different matter that no political party, whether national or regional, had made even a remote mention in its manifesto at any time during the previous elections that eradicating corruption will be its main plank.

No party has even raised in Parliament that our Anti-Corruption Laws are of antique brand and they (laws) demand impossible standards of proof for convicting anybody. In India, there is more emphasis on talk rather than any concrete action. Supreme Court said in August: "We can only observe that our legal system has made life too easy for criminals and too difficult for law abiding citizens."

Most world is practical and knows that nothing moves without giving a push, either by love or money or influence The same happens in India with all three often combined. But we do not admit it. I am not endorsing or opposing the statement of Justice Katju who said recently that 90 % Indians are idiots. A better expression would be 'most people are hypocrites.'

The USA Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995, as amended by the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2007, requires all active registrants to file quarterly lobbying activity reports with the Clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives and the Secretary of the U.S. Senate. As per a USA report the followings are the spending on Lobbying for the years shown against them

Total Lobbying Spending

1998 $1.44 billion

1999 $1.44 billion

2000 $1.56 billion

2001 $1.64 billion

2002 $1.82 billion

2003 $2.04 billion

2004 $2.18 billion

2005 $2.42 billion

2006 $2.61 billion

2007 $2.85 billion

2008 $3.30 billion

2009 $3.50 billion

2010 $3.52 billion

2011 $3.33 billion

2012 $2.45 billion

The following is the Number of Registered lobbyists for the years shown.

1998 -- 10,408

1999 -- 12,936

2000 -- 12,536

2001 -- 11,832

2002 -- 12,119

2003 -- 12,916

2004 -- 13,167

2005 -- 14,072

2006 -- 14,507

2007 -- 14,848

2008 -- 14,225

2009 -- 13,804

2010 -- 12,976

2011 -- 12,719

2012 -- 12,016

The Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2007 requires lobbying registrants and individual lobbyists to file a semi-annual report of certain contributions, along with a certification that the filer understands the gift and travel rules of both the House and the Senate. Lobbying is an entirely legitimate activity in the US. According to Roll Call, a Washington DC magazine, 143 organisations reported expenses of more than $1 million each in the first quarter of the year 2012. Here's a list of some well-known names, Indian companies, that engaged the services of lobbyists:

Ranbaxy Inc spent $540,000 in 2012, on several issues, including preserving access to affordable generics;

Tata Sons spent nearly $15,000 in 2008 for "exploring market in the US defence sector".

In India also, where even for the routine work in the government, whether it is getting the map and drawing of your house passed or getting a fire clearance, you need to use influence or spend money for the required certificate. The advertisements from lobbyists are galore for getting your Pan Number or Income Tax Refund or some DDA or MCD clearance. Willy-nilly, even after having complied with the law, you need to pay.

Petitioning to the government or the agency concerned is one thing and using well connected lobbyist is another. Allegations are galore against some legislators for being in the pay-roll of the rich industrialists who generously contribute to them for their elections or meeting their other needs. Cash-for-questions was nothing more than acting as a pressure group for a particular group of people. Sir Robert Walpole once said that "Every man has a price". More regulation and open disclosure would not help unless the basic laws of corruption are changed. At present, both the receiver and giver of kickback are guilty under the law. Then from where the evidence will come and who will depose against whom?

Nobody will willingly put a noose around his neck. The Government, to buy peace, has announced an inquiry commission by a retired judge to look into the allegations of Walmart's lobbying for opening its shops in India. Those who learn nothing from history are condemned to repeat it. India has no jurisdiction over USA wherein any inquiry officer, whether a retired judge or a police officer, can conduct any inquiry or investigation.

For any information to be official, first of all a case will have to be registered which should be an offence in USA and India. After registration of a case, a Letter Rogatory would have to be sent to that country. The normal procedure of sending any Letter Rogatory can take even years.

India's right lies only to the extent of sending a communication. But you cannot force any other country to either reply to it or reply in a time frame. It is too early to hazard a guess as to what the Commission would do.

Liberhan Commission took 15 years to give its report on Babri Masjid. People forget that a Commission of Inquiry is neither a court of law with the power of punishment nor it has the power of investigation. In fact, the government schemes are the breeding grounds of one scam after another. Before the current one is finished the attention of the public and leaders is attracted by the next one.

The Ministry of Programme Implementation and Statistics, mandated to execute works under MPLAD scheme, had imposed a restriction in March 2012 that a MP can allocate works worth Rs. 25 lakh to registered societies and Trusts in their lifetime. It evoked a strong objection from 115 MPs cutting across political spectrum. The government has bowed to the might of Members of Parliament by allowing them to allocate Rs 1 crore (or 20 %) of their annual local area development (MPLAD) to Trust and societies of their choice despite evidence suggesting corruption in similar practice.

A Central government agency NABCONZ in 2009 found that "the allocated work was being done by contractors indicated by MPs in violation of MPLAD rules." If the intention is to check international corruption affecting our country, the debate in Parliament is most welcome. If it is to score brownie points, then it is reproachable. Charity should begin at home in eliminating corruption.

Lobbying is a universal phenomenon whether done overtly or covertly. Corruption can only be curbed by fear of punishment and not by mere laws. It has been righty said that "The more corrupt the state, the more numerous the laws." The truth is that money, not morality, is the principle of commerce and trade and it would make the same in any way.

(The writer is former Director, CBI)

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Publication:Indian Currents
Geographic Code:9INDI
Date:Dec 30, 2012
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