Legalized Business Lobbying in India: Main Topics

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Lobbying is a complex phenomenon generally described as practice of individuals or organizations to influence government for favorable policies/decisions. It happens where ever individuals or groups with vested interest try to influence decision making authorities or institutions. Lobbying certainly is not inherently corrupt practice. Each country has different approaches towards lobbying. In a country with regulatory constraints, the individuals or organizations can either comply, bribe the regulator to get around the rule, or lobby the government to relax it. Lobbying in not equivalent to advocacy or vice versa, It is a form of advocacy to influence legislation and legislators.

In India, lobbying is illegal but still it is there in one form or the other and operates undercover. All the time, the economic decisions in the country are not based on what the people needed, but on how much the vested interests can influence the public policy and the decision making process. Many of the vital decisions in agribusiness, fertilizer, seed, farm machinery, animal husbandry, dairy, energy, science and technology, and retail – areas that affect country’s food security – are influenced by corporate lobbying.

Recently after the Indian government made a controversial decision in 2012 to permit Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in the country's multi-brand retail sector, Wal-Mart disclosed they had spent $25 million on lobbying to 'enhance market access for investment in India'. Reports says, the coffee shop giant Starbucks, had also spent on lobbying in India seeking 100 per cent FDI in single brand retail. 

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According to media, together the top multinational corporate companies targeting the Indian market had spent several hundred crores in the past few years. This all indicates that the decisions which seem to be for economic growth are nothing but a result of intense lobbying. Also, the trend in spending to influence public policy and crucial economic decisions will entertain corruption and in turn scarring the base of democracy. Lobbying is legalized in many countries across the world including US and Canada. It has become a modern democracy necessity these days.

The Canadian Lobbyists Registration Act regulates the lobbying in the country. The Canadian Lobbyists Registration Act requires all lobbyists to disclose certain information within time limits specified in the Act. The Registry of Lobbyists is public available, the information includes: the names of their clients, or corporate or organizational employers; the names of the parent or subsidiary companies that would benefit from the organizational members of coalition groups. 

The specific subject matters lobbied; the names of the federal departments or agencies contacted; the sources and amounts of any government funding received; and the communication techniques used, such as meetings, the lobbying activity; the name or description of the specific legislative proposals, bills, regulations; policies, programmes, grants, contributions or contracts sought; the names of the federal departments or other governmental institutions lobbied; the source and amount of any government funding; and the communication techniques used, such as grassroots lobbying.

The lobbying firms plays a vital role in public policy making in many of the courtiers. The giant such as APCO has a track of successful lobbying records. APCO was hired by Kazakhstan president Nursultan Nazarbayev to extricate himself from a four-year-long dispute with his former son-in-law Rakhat Aliyev. The company was approached by Hewlett-Packard Co’s board after accusations of harassment against its chief executive officer. It also handled crises as diverse as Merck & Co’s scandal involving Vioxx, the arthritis drug that killed thousands before it was withdrawn, and Ford Motor’s troubles with Firestone tires on its Explorer vehicles.

Prevalent perception is that bribery is relatively the answer for poor countries, whereas lobbying is a foregone conclusion in rich ones. Richness and deprivation in a country is judged by the level of development. When the level of development in a country is comparatively on the weaker side, firms are more inclined to bend the rule through bribery but they immediately switch to lobbying when the level of development is sufficiently on the higher side.

Lobbying can be legalized, but with strict regulatory terms and bodies to monitor. It may help to promote political and corporate rights, and might improve the quality and speed of decision making. Also, if economic forces or experts in the country can transparently influence the economic decisions, it will create a positive and democratic engagement between public and the government authorities. Also we do believe, legalizing lobbying would reduce corruption.

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