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Cover Story
“Industry chambers are lobbying publicly”

Issue Date - 24/11/2011
Dilip Cherian, founder of Perfect Relations in an interaction with K S Narayanan talks on how lobbying is a part of the larger environment and operates at various levels

B&E: How effectively does lobbying work?

DC: Effectiveness of any such a programme is fundamentally based on the starting parameters of your game. Lobbying comes into a company when, for example, you have to convince the government that you are getting the global standards into the country. The role of lobbying is about convincing decision makers in this case; what you are doing is Kosher, what you are doing is competent and what you are doing is to create an industry segment which previously never existed. So there is no case of ousting somebody. In another example, the second part of lobbying in the case of an MNC producing, say, chicken nuggets is that whenever you are buying the chicken in the market, as a responsible corporate citizen you have to ensure both the quality of chicken products, poultry farms and also lobby to the effect that you are allowed to transport chicken across the state borders. So lobbying is at various levels. Some of it requires media, legislators, bureaucrats or some of it just industry associations like CII, FICCI, food producers association etc. These industry bodies are not lobbying for themselves alone and keep demanding that old rules are archaic and need to be changed.

B&E: Industry chambers have been engaged in lobbying silently?

DC: No. They have been lobbying publicly. They are also doing it successfully. They are part of the same lobbying circuit. They will always seemingly work for a whole set of companies. In the business of independent lobbying you are working for a company most of the time. Take for example micro finance institutions who have come to work with us. They will also work with ASSOCHAM. They will also work with FICCI. But they also realize they need a strategic counsel to help them prepare the right kind of lobbying programme. They might work on multiple platforms. Lobbying is like exercising – whether you do it in the open park or gym is irrelevant.

B&E: Several sectors are undergoing a sea change. How do you see lobbying in these sectors that are witnessing immense activity and competition?

DC: Lobbying is always more intense where rules and regulations are archaic and stifling. It is not dependent on the levels of competition. My view is that when there are multiple players in the industry, the need of lobbying may actually be at a lower level – because industry voice comes from multiple sources and usually the needs are the same. So not much lobbying is needed. But say a single unit standalone steel plant or a single unit mega power plant would have more issues to do with lobbying than the fifty companies engaged in building roads whose bucket of needs would be similar. So it is contra-indicated.

B&E: But why does lobbying get a negative connotation?

DC: Part of the reason is that there are two or three kinds of suspicion. Suspicion on the part of average citizen – where does that come about? Second question to ask is why is a bureaucrat suspicious about lobbying! Third: why is the political class suspicious? I think in all three cases the answer is pretty much the same. It is because too many decisions are taken for consideration through lobbying which are not either economic or regulatory. They are based on individualized twisting of regulatory systems for personal aggrandizement and not even for party aggrandizement. So because of suspicion across all three class of stakeholders and because they believe that maybe the reason why a particular rule was changed was lobbying, it has a negative connotations. Therefore, there is a feeling that anything an organization achieves is achieved through lobbying and achieved through skullduggery – and therefore it is a bad thing. If instead, say, a decision is pending on a coastal regulatory zone; and if a public hearing is held by the involved official then public, developers, experts, Panchayats will appear. Make records of public hearing available. Then you appoint an expert to sit on judgment and allow users to question experts. Compress all these things in a time limit. Reach a decision quickly. But if the rules are changed behind somebody’s back on one evening and announced the next morning, people will say that lobbyists were at work. So the basis is suspicion.

B&E: Should lobbying be regulated and disclosure norms be introduced?

DC: Sometimes there is no harm for doing things before their time arrives. I think the process of importing rules and regulations from elsewhere and grafting them has only limited value unless other aspects of polity are changed – like rule for electoral funding, prosecution of individuals who are supposed to possess assets beyond known source of income etc. I am not saying do all of them together. Not in a particular sequence. There needs to be an environment. Changing one thing is like giving Vitamin C to a patient who needs to be in intensive care. Vitamin C is good. But that’s not enough.

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