* 244 members in Rajya Sabha - govt needs magic number of 123 to defeat Oppn-sponsored motion there
FDI in multi-brand retail today got the approval of the Lok Sabha (Lower House of Parliament) as the Opposition motion seeking immediate withdrawal of the decision was rejected convincingly as Mayawati's BSP and Mulayam Singh Yadav's SP walked out.
218 voted in favour of the Opposition motion, while 253 voted against it in the House where 471 members participated in the voting. The total strength of the House is 545.
The House also rejected the motion seeking amendment to the rules notified by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) under Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA) to enable FDI in multi-brand retail.
While 254 voted in favour of the government, 224 were against.
Members of SP and BSP, with respective strength of 22 and 21, did not participate in the voting as they walked out alleging that interests of farmers and small retailers had been ignored.
The victory of the government after two days of heated debate was immediately hailed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi.
"FDI policy that we have put in place has the approval of this House (Lok Sabha)," said Singh, who is a member of Rajya Sabha but was present during the voting in the Lower House.
This was after a gap of many years that an executive decision of the government was put to vote in Parliament.
Earlier, replying to the discussion, Commerce Minister Anand Sharma dismissed the Opposition charge that the move would hurt small traders and farmers and that the government has rushed the decision.
He said the decision was not taken overnight and deliberations were held with chief ministers and other stake holders like association of farmers, consumer organisations and representatives of the food processing industry.
Leader of the Opposition Sushma Swaraj, who had moved the motion, maintained that majority of the House was against FDI in retail which was reflected in speeches of leaders of different political parties.
Swaraj said going by speeches in the debate on FDI, leaders of various parties which extended support in favour of the motion and against bringing FDI in multi-brand retail had 282 votes and those against it had 224 votes.
She said 22 leaders of 18 parties participated in the debate on FDI in multi-brand retail of which 14 spoke in its favour.
"I wanted the thought to be converted into vote that will be engraved in the history of Lok Sabha," Swaraj said, lamenting that this did not seem happening as some parties like SP and BSP which vehemently opposed the entry of FDI in retail had already walked out to avoid voting on the issue.
While seeking to reach out to wider opposition camp, she said it was not a vote on communal or secular lines but about the interest of the country.
After the voting, she told reporters that the government "won technically but lost on moral grounds."
The Commerce Minister said out of 21 states which responded to the Centre's communication on the issue, 11 supported in writing the move to open multi-brand retail.
Only 7 states opposed the proposal, while few sought clarifications, he said, adding that he personally met PunjabChief Minister Prakash Singh Badal, Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.
In the backdrop of the federal structure of the country, he said, the Centre decided to leave the final decision on states whether to allow foreign investment in retail.
"No one can take away the right of an elected government to take decision", he said adding the decision was taken after discussions with the stakeholders.
"Consensus means general agreement and not unanimity," he said.
Participating in the debate, BJP leader Murli Manohar Joshi said his party was for "retail democracy and not retail dictatorship" and warned that people would not tolerate such an action.
Govt lists facts, BJP targets fence-sitters
(Express News Service) The Opposition and government battled it out in the Lok Sabha over FDI in multi-brand retail on Tuesday, with Leader of the Opposition Sushma Swaraj warning that it would lead to more unemployment, impoverished farmers and dissatisfied consumers. In his forceful rebuttal, Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal contended that the government had enough safety nets in place and the decision would actually result in better infrastructure while eliminating middlemen.
Both sides threw barbs at each other over changing positions on the issue but Swaraj made a more political speech, obviously with the objective of trying to draw votes away from the government. Sibal, on the other hand, focused on demolishing the oppositions arguments and clarifying the fineprint of the policy.
Seeking to reassure members and win them over, Swaraj said that a defeat on the FDI vote would not bring down the government and claimed that it would only force a rollback of the decision. Your fear that the government will fall because of this vote is unfounded, she said.
The mainstay of Swarajs 90-minute offensive though was underlining that FDI in retail had failed in Western economies and that retail giants such as Walmart had finished the small retailer everywhere through predatory pricing. Hum aapko hara ke jeetna nahin chahte, hum aapko mana ke jeetna chahte hain (We dont want the rollback by defeating you. We want the rollback by convincing you), she said.
Swaraj also said claims that farmers will benefit from the move were baseless and that farmers in the European Union had been forced to sell their produce below production cost to large retail chains. A fool learns from his own experience, while a wise man learns from the experience of others, she said. Even President Barack Obama was now supporting the small retailer with the small business Saturday campaign in the US, she added.
In the discussion that was punctuated by repeated disruptions and heated exchanges, Swaraj also pointed out that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had opposed FDI in retail in 2002 when he was leader of the Rajya Sabha. She read out a letter that Singh had written to a Mumbai business representative expressing such views, and asked what had happened for him to change his mind. Pointing to recent media reports which said that Walmart had initiated investigations into corrupt practices in India, she hinted that there may be more than meets the eye. The decision to allow FDI in retail is not a step towards development but a leap into the ditch of destruction, she said.
The BJP leader also maintained that her party was not opposed to FDI per se and was willing to travel with the Prime Minister across the world to invite investments in other sectors such as infrastructure and power.
Articulating the governments position, Sibal maintained that the policy was aimed at benefiting farmers while strengthening the countrys infrastructure sector. The purpose of the policy is that farmers should get a higher price for their produce than they get in the mandi (wholesale market). It will abolish the middleman system, he said and cited an example of a West Bengal district where Pepsico is procuring potatoes directly from farmers.
The foreign investor has to invest US $100 million out of which US $50 million has to be invested for infrastructure development, he said. The small-scale industry sector will also benefit from the policy as there is a provision that 30 per cent of procurement should be done from this sector, he added. If he (the investor) doesnt get it from the MSME sector, he will not be given clearance, Sibal said.
The Telecom Minister also reminded the BJP that it earlier held a different stand on the issue, pointing out that in its 2004 vision document, the party had backed FDI in retail and even announced that it would bring 26 per cent FDI. He also read out from a Cabinet note prepared during the NDA regime which made an unabashed pitch for FDI in multi-brand retail.