Sapa-dpa New Delhi

THE INDIAN government ordered a probe yesterday into the spending on lobbying by US retail giant Walmart to facilitate its entry into India.

The company recently disclosed that it had spent close to $25 million (R217m) on lobbying activities, including on the issues related to “enhanced market access for investment in India”, the Press Trust of India news agency reported.

The development triggered a new controversy in India, coming after parliament last week approved rules to allow foreign direct investment in the country’s supermarket sector amid much opposition.

“The government will appoint a retired judge to hold a time-bound inquiry into the media reports regarding Walmart,” Parliamentary Affairs Minister Kamal Nath said in the lower house of parliament.

The government’s decision came after opposition parties repeatedly staged protests in parliament over the past two days, demanding a probe into the matter.

Opposition members have alleged that the government was “bribed” by lobbyists hired by Walmart.

Walmart denied the allegations, saying money for lobbying was spent in the US, and not in India, where lobbying is illegal. “The allegation, that a routine US lobbying disclosure form reflects improper conduct on our part in India, is false,” Walmart said in a statement.

“This disclosure has nothing to do with political or governmental contacts with India government officials,” it said.

Opposition parties said the move to open up retail markets would hurt manufacturers and threaten the livelihoods of millions of small store owners.