Stressing the need to clearly define what constitutes legal lobbying activities by business groups in India, the Corporate Affairs Minister, Sachin Pilot, today said lobbyists should present their views to policymakers in public and not behind the closed doors.

“I think, there should be a very clear definition of what constitutes corporate lobbying in India, given the arrival of large number of foreign companies on Indian landscape.

“Advocacy, speaking up and informing is very much part of democracy,” the 35-year-old minister told PTI in an interview, while calling for a clear definition to what is right and what is wrong when it comes to lobbying.

Observing that the word ‘lobbying’ has a negative connotation in India, Pilot said: “If you are doing something that is going to better inform the policymakers why not do it in public and not behind closed doors?”

The issue of lobbying, especially by the US-based companies operating or seeking to operate in India, had led to an intense debate within and outside Parliament late last year after it came to light that global retail giant Walmart was spending millions of dollars on lobbying before American lawmakers on various issues, including market access in India.

Following demands from various political parties, the Government had set up an inquiry committee to look into the Walmart matter and the panel submitted its report to the Corporate Affairs Ministry last month.

Pilot, who is on a visit to the US, said the report would be presented, along with comments and observations of the ministry, before the Parliament in the monsoon session.

Noting that lobbying is practised as part of normal business activity in most of the industrialised nations, Pilot said a discussion among various stakeholders is required in India on what constitutes legal lobbying.

“If we do not know what lobbying is, then problems may confront us. Time has come for India to clearly define what constitutes lobbying and what is not. The definition needs wider discussion and after that the matter should be settled once and for all,” Pilot said.

“We must be able to prove and define what violates Indian laws and what are the activities that are permissible under Indian laws. I will be happy to lead a discussion either within Parliament or with the industry on what constitutes legal lobbying,” he added.

The Minister said that all entities concerned — individuals, companies or industry chambers — must be able to spell out their stance on the issue of lobbying.

The entities should be able to tell about the advantage in lobbying or the lack of it in the best interests of stakeholders and public, he added.

“As a politician I take a stand for FDI strongly in Parliament and do not hide it. I have a right to think that way and so do others. People or groups are entitled to have opinions for or against any particular issue. Right now there is no clarity,” Pilot said.

Besides Walmart, a host of other American companies have indulged in lobbying among the US lawmakers on various issues concerning their Indian business interest, among other matters.

Lobbying is a legal activity in the US, but the companies and their lobbyists need to submit the disclosure reports about such activities on a quarterly basis before the US Congress.

Some companies from India, as well as the Indian government, have also mandated lobbyists in the US to present their viewpoint before various departments and policymakers in the US.