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Heat on FDI grows, govt calls all-party meeting

New Delhi: Opposition parties Monday stuck to their guns on a complete roll-back of the foreign direct investment (FDI) in retail, forcing the government to call an all-party meeting, likely Wednesday, as the reform measure was put on hold pending a political consensus.

Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee spoke with Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) L.K. Advani and Sushma Swaraj and Left leader Sitaram Yechury to convey the government’s decision to put the major reform policy in abeyance.

However, the reaching out failed to cut any ice with the opposition leaders, who asked the government to hold an all-party meeting and clear its stand to end the parliament logjam.

Nearly half of the winter session has been lost due to protests and slogan shouting by opposition members over various issues, including against the FDI in retail.
Giving in to the demand, the government has decided to call the meeting on Wednesday, according to sources.

Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal did not confirm the date but said the meeting would be held “soon”.

The decision to call an all-party meeting comes after Mukherjee, according to sources, was told by opposition leaders that they want a complete rollback of the policy and not just its suspension.

The sources said the key Congress troubleshooter assured them the government would consult opposition parties and also various stakeholders before taking a final decision on allowing the FDI in Indian retail market.

He also requested them to let parliament run because some of the crucial legislations, including the anti-graft Lokpal bill, were to be passed in the session that ends Dec 22.
Sushma Swaraj confirmed she spoke to Mukherjee. “He called me. I told him either roll back the FDI decision or have a debate under an adjournment motion,” she told reporters in Indore.

Yechury also confirmed he talked with Mukherjee.
“He (Mukherjee) said they want the parliament to continue and I replied that we always wanted parliament to continue,” Yechury said.

At the heart of the controversy is a Nov 25 cabinet decision to allow 51 percent foreign ownership of multi-brand retail stores and 100 percent in single brand outlets.

The opposition and key Congress allies, the DMK and the Trinamool Congress, say the decision would hurt millions of farmers and small traders of India by allowing international super-chains like Wal-Mart and Tesco to set up their shops in the country.

Giving in to the opposition, the government Saturday informed Trinamool chief Mamata Banerjee, the West Bengal chief minister and a bitter critic of the policy, that it would put the decision on hold, pending consensus.

The surrender by the government is being seen as a set-back to Manmohan Singh’s first major reform decision since he regained power in 2009.

But Law Minister Salman Khurshid dismissed the notion that it was a set-back to the government.

“Not at all,” Khurshid said, adding “not everything you want to do gets done in the time frame you want it”.

Congress spokesperson Renuka Chowdhary told reporters that the party was “open minded” over the issue and any formal announcement regarding it would be made in parliament.

She accused the BJP of having “double standards” over the FDI in retail, referring to the opposition party’s 2004 election manifesto in which it had promised to get foreign equity to boost Indian retailing.

Parliament will resume Wednesday after an extended weekend of four days.

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