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LS approves FDI in retail, rejects Opposition motion

New Delhi(PTI): FDI in multi-brand retail today got the approval of the Lok Sabha as the Opposition motion seeking immediate withdrawal of the decision was rejected convincingly as BSP and 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 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.

Initiating the debate on the issue, Swaraj contended that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, as Leader of the Opposition in Rajya Sabha in 2002, had opposed FDI in retail and questioned as to what has changed that the government is so determined to implement it.

Pressing for rollback of the “disastrous” FDI decision, she told the government “hum aapko hara ke jeetna nahin chahte, hum aapko mana ke jeetna chahte (We don’t want the rollback by defeating you. We want the rollback by convincing you),” she said.

In her nearly 90-minute speech, punctuated by repeated disruptions and heated exchanges, Swaraj maintained that the concept of large supermarkets has failed in Western economies and wondered how the government was claiming it would create jobs in India.

She asserted that BJP was not opposed to FDI per se and as Leader of the Opposition she was willing to travel with the Prime Minister across the world to invite investments in other sectors like infrastructure. Singh was present when she spoke.

Appealing to parties like SP and BSP to support the motion moved by her and Khagen Das (CPI-M) against 51 per cent FDI in multi-brand retail, Swaraj said any defeat during vote will not bring down the government but will force it to rollback the decision on FDI.

“Your fear that the government will fall because of this vote is unfounded,” she said turning to members of SP and BSP, who have maintained ambiguity over their stand on voting.

Justifying the FDI decision, Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal attacked Swaraj and accused the BJP of doing a flip-flop on the issue.

He said when the NDA was is power, it had overruled the opinion of the Planning Commission to favour FDI in retail, which BJP had promised to roll out in its manifesto for the 2004 and 2009 elections.

Sibal asserted that the FDI decision would benefit farmers, small scale industries, youth and consumers in the country and charged BJP and Left parties with ignoring “ground reality” and helping commission agents.

T K S Elangovan (DMK), key constituent of the UPA, said it was with the government only because “it is the need of the hour to save the fiscal condition of the states.
“So, we do not want to let you down. Secondly, we do not want to join the Opposition, we do not want to join the BJP. We are not neutral. We are against the FDI in multi-brand retail,” he said.

Elangovan said the DMK does not want to oppose the government or vote against it because “we know that only the hand is injured and we do not want to put you for a whole body scan.”

“So, we have time. We are with you. We will watch you and we will correct you as and when necessary because we have to face the people. One or two things may be not in the interest of the people for which we do not want to let you down. While registering my strong opposition to the FDI in multi-brand retail, I also support the government,” he said.

Earlier, Yadav rejected government’s contention that FDI would lead to growth and said if the Western countries like the US had not benefited and seen job creation how could it be good for India.

In this context, he referred to a provision in the FDI policy to implement it only in cities having a population of 10 lakhs or more. “If you are really convinced that it is beneficial then why are you not implementing it in the entire country,” Yadav said.

He asked the government to do a rethink and not force suicides by farmers who depend only on agriculture.

Appealing to Sonia Gandhi to defer it, Yadav said if we realise later that it is beneficial we will support it.

He told Gandhi that polls were not far away and “clever” BJP and RSS will exploit this issue through their wide base in villages.

“You will not benefit electorally from it. They (BJP) will come to power. We will not come to power but we will give support to you or take support from you,” he said.

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