For long, legalising lobbying as a profession has been debated in India. Lobbying has undoubtedly been a controversial topic in modern-day democracy. It is said that lobbying might further the ideals of a participative democracy. India currently does not have a law that regulates and has appropriate disclosures about lobbying. In an attempt to legalise it in India, the Disclosure of Lobbying Activities Bill 2015 (DLA) was introduced in the Lok Sabha by Kailash Narayan Singh Deo, a Member of Parliament in India.
The Bill primarily talks about regulating the practice of lobbying in India, and its primary purpose is to encourage transparency in Indian governance. Mr. Deo explains lobbying as, “A broad range of activities that attempt to influence policymaking. It is often used to influence the way a legislator votes on a matter before the House. Organisations that engage in such practices exist on a spectrum. They can range from think tanks, non-governmental organisations and citizens’ groups, to corporations, wealthy individuals, and special interest/ industrial groups.”
While understanding the meaning of lobbying, one thing that stands clear is that it isn’t equivalent to bribery in legal terms. The lack of a regulation is seen as a loophole in our law and has been accused of forming a grey area of corruption in the Indian government. There are countries with a regulated lobbying system (US, Canada, Australia, Germany and Taiwan). The United States of America has a pretty strict regulation.
However, after going through the findings of Transparency International, I realised that lobbying has not made much of a difference to corruption in politics. Even with complete disclosure requirements, a majority of the respondents see the politicians as the most corrupt among the set categories of the findings.
There are a few understandable and possible reasons for the failure in eradicating corruption despite regulating lobbying. The first and foremost reason is the changing scenario of the business-government relations and lobbying. There has been a paradigm shift in the businesses thinking of maintaining a healthy distance from government, to choosing lobbying for favourable policies and an increase in government stake in business investments.
The International Monetary Firm has suggested a positive link between lobbying and financial crisis owing to preventive policies. In fact, in a lot of cases, the corporate impact has influenced policies irrespective of the involvement of money. ‘Even in India, some of the biggest scams in the recent past were a result of corporates influencing policy, irrespective of the fact whether or not money was exchanged. Allocation of 2G spectrum and coal blocks are some such examples’, confirmed a report in liveMint.
The DLA Bill proposes the centre to set up a central authority for registration of lobbyists, known as the Lobbyists’ Registration Authority (LRA). It aims at making lobbying activities reportable from time to time. The LRA is proposed to be the administrative authority which shall be empowered to conduct investigations, against people it suspects of having engaged in lobbying activities, without being registered with it.
I see the LRA as the soul of this bill and regulation. How does this bill intend to keep this administrative body away from the ‘grey area of corruption’? The bill does talk about covering all types of public servants, but is it desirable? If the lobbyist reports a payment, it will be legalised. It is highly likely that all the undue gratifications will be legalised as long as they are reported.
From what I understand, there is a possibility that regulating lobbying might change how the government functions. While one of the significant roles of the bill is to make the opinions of the citizens heard, there is a high chance that the government might focus more on the lobbyists, than on the will of the people. Further, this might create a state of ‘hyper-pluralism’. The attempt to distinguish and segregate ethical and unethical lobbyists can prove to be ineffective.
Lastly, in a diverse country like India, lobbying appears to be effective only for a specific group. Groups which have sufficient resources at their disposal, will generally be more successful than the ones with limited resources.
Due to the anti-defection law and the whip rule, ordinary MPs and MLAs no longer have the power to vote on bills as they please. In such a case, lobbying would be done only by a handful of leaders (doesn’t this happen already?). This not only contradicts the purpose of the DLA bill but puts the entire purpose of involving the citizenry under question. Moreover, the way our parliament sessions have been taking place recently, the possibility of a constructive debate seems negligent. This will ultimately result in DLA being like other electoral bonds- completely anonymous without the possibility of verifying the authenticity of the lobbyists.
Lobbying is a significant part of democratic functioning. Creating awareness about lobbying seems to be the need of the hour in India. However, its regulation, resulting in a positive influence on public policy and fighting corruption with transparency, doesn’t seem to be a definite outcome. Perhaps, toning down the anti-defection law and the removal of the whip rule, except in the cases of money bills and no-confidence motion, might serve the purpose of the DLA Bill.