| NEW DELHI
NEW DELHI Nov 26 India's government failed on
Monday to defuse a row with the opposition over opening up the
supermarket sector to foreign chains, a decision that has thrown
parliament into chaos and endangered fresh economic reforms.
Opposition lawmakers have paralysed parliament in the
world's largest democracy, demanding the government roll back
its flagship reform, announced in September, to allow foreign
supermarkets like Wal-Mart to set up shop in India.
Critics say that allowing foreign players into the $450
billion retail sector will destroy the livelihoods of millions
of small store owners. The government says the move will
increase revenue and help eliminate chronic food wastage by
setting up proper cold chain and transport infrastructure.
Parliamentary Affairs Minister Kamal Nath called an
all-party meeting on Monday to try to break the deadlock but
opposition parties stuck to their demand for a parliamentary
vote on the executive order on supermarket reform.
"There can be no compromise on Rule 184," Sushma Swaraj,
leader of the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in
parliament, said after the talks, referring to the parliamentary
regulation that would allow the vote.
The government has so far refused to accede to the demand,
even though the result of a vote would not be binding on it as
the reforms can be implemented without parliamentary approval.
If it agreed to and then lost such a vote it would be an
embarrassing setback and give its opponents valuable ammunition
ahead of state and national elections due by 2014.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's shaky coalition lost its
majority in parliament in September after its biggest ally, the
Trinamool Congress party (TMC), withdrew its support to oppose
the reform. The government is not confident that it has the
numbers to win the vote and is pushing instead for a debate.
UPROAR IN PARLIAMENT
The dispute over the reform has caused uproar in parliament.
Protesting lawmakers clamouring for a government climbdown on
the policy have prevented any work from being done in the first
three days of the month-long winter session.
So far it has been a replay of the August session, when
lawmakers demanding Singh's resignation over alleged
irregularities in sweetheart coal deals refused to allow
parliament to do any business.
The deadlock threatens to derail the government's efforts to
drive forward its stuttering economic reform agenda and shake
off the perception of policy paralysis in Asia's third-largest
Bills to allow greater foreign direct investment (FDI) in
the insurance and pension sectors are unlikely to come up for a
vote while the stand-off over the supermarket reform continues.
"Take back FDI," lawmakers chanted in parliament on Monday
as the Speaker tried to get down to business. Many shouted from
their seats while others carrying placards gathered around the
Speaker's seat. The commotion forced an adjournment for the day.
Opposition parties have seized on revelations that the
finance ministry is investigating Wal-Mart, the world's biggest
retailer, over claims it violated foreign exchange rules when it
invested $100 million in a domestic unit owned by its wholesale
joint-venture partner, Bharti Enterprises.
Bharti has also suspended its chief financial officer and
other employees in a separate internal investigation into
alleged violations of U.S. anti-bribery laws.
Analysts said investors did not expect parliament to pass
many, if any, important bills this session. The government,
however, is under pressure to revive sluggish economic growth
and narrow widening fiscal and trade deficits.