Foreign Direct Investment for Walmart and Friends Coming to Critical Vote in India

protest against foreign retail gaints in India earlier this year

Quito   Though I could find no information in the US-based press, the stalemate in the Parliament in India was finally broken yesterday after a week long stalemate centered on the parliamentarians’ opposition to the Government’s action to unilaterally modify foreign direct investment restrictions in multi-brand retail, allowing Walmart and other big box operations to enter India on their own steam potentially.  The India FDI Watch Campaign, supported by ACORN International since its inception, has been deeply embedded in this effort.   ACORN’s FDI campaign director in Delhi, Dharmendra Kumar, filed this report with me last night on the evolving situation and the potential vote breakdown.  Needless to say, it’s very, very close with street protests also planned within days!

Govt. strength over FDI in retail issue will be on trial in Parliament next week, with the Lok Sabha (Lower House) deciding to have a discussion on December 4 and 5 on the issue under rule 184 that entails voting. “I have received 30 notices for discussion on FDI in multi—brand retail under Rule 184. “I have admitted the motion to allow the discussion,” the Speaker Meira Kumar said. Rajya Sabha (Upper House) will also have a similar discussion, the date and timings for it will be decided later. The nearly week-long deadlock gripping the Lok Sabha as well as the Rajya Sabha (Upper House) over the issue of allowing foreign superstores is thus broken with the government conceding the Opposition’s stringent demand for a debate on the issue in both Houses of Parliament under rules that entail voting.

While the Govt. is confident of required votes in the Lok Sabha, the Opposition is hopeful of defeating the Govt. in the Upper House. Govt. is sounding confident after its second largest constituent, DMK reluctantly decided to vote for the Govt. “with bitterness” on this issue. The Govt. is also hoping its key allies SP and BSP who stand opposed to foreign superstores will bail it out through abstention from voting. Though SP and BSP continue to give mix signals and are keeping everyone guessing. To muster a simple majority mark in the Rajya Sabha, the Govt. requires votes from the 15-member BSP and abstention by 9 SP parliamentarians.

The likely parliamentary position is as follows:-

Lok Sabha Position

For FDI Retail-257

Undecided-43 (In principle all opposed to FDI Retail)

Against FDI Retail-244

Simple majority mark-272

Total Seats-545

Effective Strength-544

Rajya Sabha Position

For FDI Retail-95

Undecided-24 (In principle all opposed to FDI Retail)

Against FDI Retail-113

Nominated Members-12

Simple majority mark-123

Total Seats-245

Effective Strength-244

This will be the first such trial of strength in the 15th Parliament.  There has never been a parliamentary discussion of this sort on executive decision.

Another opportunity-The Opposition could get another opportunity to show its strength when the government later brings RBI’s amendments to Fema in the form of Fema (Third Amendment) Regulations, 2012 notification for the approval of both Houses to facilitate FDI-retail’s implementation.

Street Action-Independent retailers and street vendors would organize protest against FDI Retail at parliament on 3rd December.



Tides Recognizes BP Environmental Warriors on Long Gulf Coast Marathon Fight

Casey Budesilich from Tides with Awardees Brenda Robichaux and Marylee Orr

New Orleans     Twenty-two years ago the Tides Foundation began giving the Jane Bagley Lehman Public Advocacy Awards on an almost annual basis to largely unrecognized local grassroots organizers and activists making a huge difference on major issues in what I have always called “the vineyards.”  During my more than 30 years on the board of Tides from its founding 37 years ago by Drummond Pike until I went on senior status in 2009, the most fun thing I ever got to do was help decide and give out the JBL’s with Drummond, Russell Long and Susan Carmichael, Jane’s children, and Andrea Kydd, my old friend and comrade, much missed but now also gone.   From the minute I heard that the JBL’s were going to recognize advocates who had stepped up for Louisiana and the Gulf Coast in the face of last year’s British Petroleum (BP) oil spill disaster, I started lobbying for various local freedom fighters and for the opportunity for Fair Grinds Coffeehouse  to be able to host the awards ceremony in our 2nd floor Common Space.

The awards winners and those in the final four were amazing.  Brenda Dardar-Robichaux, former chief of the Houma Nation and a longtime advocate and organizer in defense of the Louisiana bayou country, coast area, and cultural traditions and livelihoods was there with her husband, Mike “Doctor Mike” Robichaux, her father, and a lot of her family from the Raceland area.  The other winner was Marylee Orr, the long time executive director of the well known, Baton Rouge-based, Louisiana Environmental Action Network (LEAN), that is always at the table hammering away on the policy side.  Close behind the winner’s circle was our New Orleans-based, Gulf Coast advocate, Aaron Viles of the Gulf Coast Restoration Network, who was also present for the ceremony.

It was a great event with Rosa King and Casey Budesilich coming down from San Francisco to preside and present.  Zee Thornton, Fair Grinds’ Manager, went over the line and saved Tides a small fortune by personally catering the event and drawing on her old tricks working as a line chef at some of New Orleans’ best restaurants.  We just about had to chase people away after closing.   Fantastic!

On the other hand, every conversation I had was disturbing with the winners.  Aaron and Marylee both mentioned conversations with activists in Alaska continuing to warn that based on their experience with Exxon and the Valdez spill, this could be a 20 to 30 year battle.  Viles was not ready to concede that BP could be his life mission.  Aaron kept shaking his head that BP thus far had spent more in PR and “brand” protection in the media, than they had in actual Gulf Coast restoration, despite all of their claims.

Everyone believed the biggest danger was dispersants; the chemicals used to “breakup” the spill.  The after affects are not known, but continue to be seen as the biggest lurking danger.   Zee’s oyster dressing was the best I had ever had, but Brenda’s family told Beth Butler from A Community Voice that they, sadly, were still afraid to eat oysters since the spill.

Dr. Mike caught me on the balcony to tell me what he called “a long story,” but it turned out to be frightfully important.  He has treated more than 200 victims of chemical poisoning who worked or were affected by the dispersants and the spill.  Talking to other doctors, they are finding that the symptoms and response are the same as soldiers who came back from the Gulf War with similar chemical exposure.  The tracking of problems and reactions is disturbingly close.  I could say the good news is that Dr. Mike and his colleagues are coming up with a treatment regime that is helping, but the bad news behind the headlines is that few have recognized that this is a modern version of Agent Orange effects from what Dr. Mike referred to as “our war,” meaning Vietnam, as he was talking to me.

These were happy people celebrating their awards, plaques, and the critical “no strings” cash contributions that come from this Tides JBL, but asking the organizers how they saw the future was guaranteed to take the smiles off their faces as they looked at the horizon and saw nothing but more hard work, hard times, and long struggle.