Corporate espionage: Assocham pitches for legalising lobbying

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New Delhi | Updated: February 22, 2015 4:32:55 PM

In the wake of a major crack down on 'corporate espionage' involving private sector companies allegedly...

Petroleum Ministry document leak, Petroleum Ministry casePolice men cover the windows of their vehicle in which Petroleum document leak accused were bought to Patiala House court in New DelhI. (PTI)

In the wake of a major crack down on ‘corporate espionage’ involving private sector companies allegedly procuring secret official documents illegally, Assocham has pitched for legalising lobbying to improve transparency in government-industry dealings.

“Each of the Indian and multinational companies should be within its rights to operate with full freedom. They also should have a right to engage in lobbying groups to advance their line of arguments and convince the decision making authorities that they have merit. Lobbying should no more be considered as a dirty word,” Assocham Secretary General D S Rawat said in a statement.

It is worth mentioning here that during the previous UPA regime the then Corporate Affairs Minister Sachin Pilot had favoured putting in place a proper framework for lobbying while defining what is legal and what is not.

“We need to be clear as to what lobbying means. We have to first define what the act of lobbying means…. Lobbying could mean different things in different context,” he had said.

“I think that time has come to define what is acceptable and what is not. What is legal and what is not legal.

“I think, in most countries we have that definition, but in India, it is pretty vague. It is wrong to assume that lobbying means bribery, but some people allege that it is bribery.”

His comments had come in the backdrop of heated debate within Parliament and outside on lobbying after it came to light that various global companies, including retail giant Wal-Mart, lobbied with the US lawmakers to push for their entry and other business interests in the Indian markets.

“But we must be very clear about what lobbying means and what the law is. … Once there is clarity of law, you would know whether you are inside or outside of it. So we must have very open-hearted discussion and time has come for that…. since it is not defined in India, it can mean anything,” he had said.

Last week, senior executives from top energy firms and consultants were among several people arrested in the corporate espionage scandal emanating from the Petroleum Ministry in which classified documents, including an input for upcoming Finance Minister’s budget speech were allegedly leaked.

Calling for transparency in the decision-making process, industry body Assocham wondered why policies which have a bearing on corporates should be “shrouded in secrecy”.

Demanding that the Narendra Modi-government implement in “letter and spirit” its slogan of minimum government and maximum governance, Assocham said the only way to get rid of ‘corporate espionage’ in the labyrinth of state machinery is introducing complete transparency and demolishing the four walls of secrecy around the process of “decision-making”.

“In any case why should the government decision-making concerning policies which have a bearing on the corporates be shrouded in secrecy,” Rawat said.

Let all the policies be first put up on the websites as drafts and let all the conflicting interests debate, deliberate and slug it out by their legitimate arguments right in the public view, Rawat said.

Wondering what is the “fuss is about” on the “corporate espionage”, he said: “After all, any Indian citizen can rightfully access any government information or even document through a legal way by the Right to Information Act.

“The piles of documents which are being hyped up as the corporate espionage can be sought from any government department using RTI, with the exception of the national security matters.”

Stating that there will always be conflicting views between two competing corporates, Rawat said: “Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s passionate slogan of Minimum Government and Maximum Governance should be implemented in a letter and spirit.”

He said opposing views have to be respected, debated before a decision is taken and “even after a decision is taken, the public and the businesses have a right to be told as to why a particular line of decision was taken and the other rejected”.

Rawat said the espionage stories will not help the country in wooing investors.

“What we need is strong regulators, open decision making. Even the Budget making should also be done in a transparent manner and this practice of changing and altering tax slabs, rates every year should be stopped. There should be long term policies with clear vision with the fair and transparent rules of the game,” he said.

Besides, the police should also refrain from painting the entire corporate world with the brush of espionage, he added.

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