The Prime Minister's Office (PMO) has declined to share details of the meetings the lobbyists of US-based retail giant Walmart had with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and other officials, citing exemption clause under the RTI Act.
"In respect of Prime Minister, the office has stated that the sought information is exempted under Section 8 of the Act, whereas regarding PMO official(s) the office has stated that information sought is not part of records held by the office," the PMO said in reply to an RTI Act query on Walmart's activities in India.
The section contains at least eight sub-clauses under which an information sought under RTI Act can be denied. The PMO has not given any reason, which is mandatory as per the RTI Act, for denial of information.
The PMO was asked to give details of lobbyists, advisers, officials and representatives of Walmart who had met the Prime Minister or officials in PMO between 2008 till date.
A one-member enquiry committee, under the chairmanship of former Chief Justice of Punjab and Haryana High Court Mukul Mudgal, was set up by the government in January.
The move came after Parliament was informed by the government that it would probe the issue of Walmart having lobbied hard before the US lawmakers for access to lucrative Indian retail market.
Lobbying is legal in the US and many other countries, where companies concerned and their registered lobbyists need to make quarterly disclosures about such activities. However, India has no such guidelines in place.
The government-appointed panel, which submitted its report on May 18, is understood to have remained inconclusive on whether Walmart violated Indian laws in carrying out lobbying with US lawmakers to enter India's retail market.
The findings of the Mukul panel are yet to be taken by Union Cabinet.
Bharti Enterprises and Walmart have recently parted ways to operate retail stores independently in India.
Walmart spent USD 6.13 million (about Rs 33 crore) on lobbying for various issues, including on discussions related to Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in India, during 2012, as per the US Congressional records. It had been lobbying on India-related issues since at least 2008 and continued to do so till at least first quarter of 2013.
However, Walmart halted its lobbying with the American lawmakers on India-specific issues during the last quarter ended June 30, as per its latest quarter disclosure reports.