The name ‘Lobby’ itself invites a wide spectrum of controversial debates in the legislative and regulatory processes in India. Before taking sides, if lobbying needs regulation or if it’s a kind of bribery, here is the whole picture in a dilatable mode. Let us go back to England in the 1840’s: In the British House of Commons, it is believed that special interest petitioners would often gather in the rooms besides the legislative chambers; they are vestibules or simply ‘lobbies’.
Now, what is lobbying and who is a lobbyist?
Lobbying is a modest crusade to influence the decisions of the government, precisely to seek to influence a legislator. A lobbyist is a person who is working for an employer to persuade legislators to vote for legislation that favours the lobbyist’s employer. Most common lobbyists are lawyers, retired bureaucrats, chartered accountants, those in the corporate businesses and sometimes, the legislators too. Federations of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI), Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) are the leading lobby groups in our country whereas Vaishnavi Corporate Communications (Niira Radia) & DTA Associates (Deepak Talwar) are the private companies that lobby with the policy makers.
No regulations, no ban. Not illegal – these are the circumventing parameters of lobbying in our nation. However, a few regulatory bills are pre-defined in other nations like the United States, Germany, United Kingdom, Slovenia, Canada, Georgia, Hungary, Israel, Italy, Lithuania and Poland.
Growth over these years:
Lobbying is a well-established industry though it operates in a largely opaque environment. It is an ‘iterative’ process and lobbyists function as a bridge between companies and the government. “We help our clients in understanding the policy environment of the country. We help them in identifying key players and their positions in the policy area” – a famous lobbyist says. He, however, agrees that there is no transparency in the industry till date. So, before we further conclude, we should note that governments also carry out lobbying activity through their foreign emissaries or by hiring lawyers. Thus, lobbying is a function of the present democracy and governance. And given its requirement in the formation of public policy, the need was felt to regularize it and give it a solid structure. Scams like Coalgate and 2G are to be witnessed in the absence of vigilance. Wal-Mart is the latest example for the same. Having spent $25 million from their pockets over four years to lobby, American lawmakers they gained access to overseas markets like India. There would be no benchmark reckoning these big numbers, with the present state. This further presses the need of erasing the opaque transitions.
What should be done now?
It is high time that we legitimize and regulate lobbying activities through appropriate legislation. It’s an open secret that lobbying is more rampant than we presume it to be. So, better regularize it and legalize the structure, as it benefits the majority. As the lobbyists play an important if not an essential role in the entire legislative process, it’s better to keep an eye on their proceedings. Monitor the information provided by both lobbyists and those being lobbied, and regular adjustments are to be done in accordance with the current scenario. Those legislators should be liable to be prosecuted for accepting a bribe to perform their legislative responsibilities. This ultimately makes the system transparent and accountable. Grooming and tailoring the legislations of other countries, if needed, (as we have drafted our constitution), let lobbying be regularized. I am sure this will open new arenas in the development of our economy, because “True lobbying is real advocacy and builds consensus”