With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility

Published: Saturday, Jun 09,2012, 18:22 IST
Central Bank of India, the real issues of India, farmers, suicide, rita pal, Parliamentary Standing Committee on Agriculture, Mr M V Tanksale, indian farmer suicide cases, ibtl column

Mr M V Tanksale - With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility ... In the last few days, the column A Clear Emergency - Every 30 Minutes ...related to the deaths of Indian farmers has generated some attention from the social media. “One farmer dies every thirty minutes” was an evidence based statistic that has shocked many people. A summary can also be read in The Hindu The two recent petitions ongoing internationally End Indian farmers' suicides ... and in the UK High suicide rate amongst Indian farmers are slowly building momentum.

Today, Business Standard has published a quote from the Chairman and Managing Director of the Central Bank of India citing that

IBTL Columns

“Farmers suicide numbers is just media hype”.

Paul Marsden, Former MP/Shadow Health Minister and current International Business Consultant was understandably angered by these comments. On Facebook, Marsden stated:-

“The boss of Central Bank of India is an utter disgrace. He is out of touch with the real issues of India and should resign. He should sit down with the children of those dead farmers and explain that it is "media hype".Mr M V Tanksale is a heartless, cruel and no doubt rich boss of an Indian bank. It shows how out of touch he is with the poor of India. 250,000 farmers have committed suicide over the past 16 years in India. It is no 'hype' but fact from the Indian National Crime Records Bureau
Mr Tanksale provides no statistical evidence to base his assertions on. He merely makes a bold statement hoping that the general public will believe his dismissive remarks as he holds a position of great power. Throwing his weight upon misconceived remarks is not enough.  His flippant remarks made without evidence or official statistics show total disrespect, indifference and a blatant disregard and for those who have suffered at the hands of faulty policies laid down by the current Congress government. Mr Tanksale should have understood the complex nature of the problem currently facing Indian farmers.

In May 2012, Sainath wrote about the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Agriculture.

“Disturbed by reports of mounting farm suicides and acute distress in Vidarbha, committee members, who belong to different parties, decided to visit the region. Bhambraja, touted as a model for Mahyco-Monsanto’s miracle Bt, was an obvious destination for the committee headed by veteran parliamentarian Basudeb Acharia. Another was Maregaon-Soneburdi. But the MPs struck no gold in either village. Only distress arising from the miracle’s collapse and a raft of other, government failures”
The evidence based report constructed by the Centre For Human Rights And Global Justice was also clearly ignored by the boss of the Central Bank of India.

Its Executive Summary stated as follows

“It is estimated that more than a quarter of a million Indian farmers have committed suicide in the last 16 years—the largest wave of recorded suicides in human history. A great number of those affected are cash crop farmers and cotton farmers in particular. In 2009 alone, the most recent year for which official figures are available, 17,638 farmers committed suicide—that’s one farmer every 30 minutes. While striking on their own, these figures considerably underestimate the actual number of farmer suicides taking place. Women, for example, are often excluded from farmer suicide statistics because most do not have title to land—a common prerequisite for being recognized as a farmer in official statistics and programs”
One of the biggest problems is that the current Indian Government has failed to set up a national inquiry into the multi-factorial causes of the largest waves of suicide human history. There is no evidence that the suicide rate has reduced in any way or form. The government has failed to revalidate its knee jerk minimal interventions following intermittent media features. The current policies appear to be little more than lip service and reputed to be plagued by serious problems.  It has also failed to develop workable emergency solutions to reduce the suicide rate.

It is clear that farmers have lost all hope and confidence in the current government who appear to have treated them with contempt. Now, even their deaths are to be described as “media hype” by the current boss of India’s Central Bank with the net effect of throwing further salt in their already deepened wounds. It is more likely that the number of deaths have been underestimated not overestimated or “hyped”. Indeed, as MAY 11-13, 2012 Reaping Gold Through Cotton, and Newsprint How - the Times of India Colluded with Monsanto in Fake Reports of Bt Cotton Successes by P. SAINATH, demonstrates the sectors of the Indian media who played quite the opposite role in boasting about successes where there were none.  He discusses the role of advertising and the media’s subsequent misrepresentation of facts. The article stated:-

“The same full page appeared twice in three years, the first time as news, the second time as an advertisement. “Not a single person from the two villages has committed suicide.” Three and a half years ago, at a time when the controversy over the use of genetically modified seeds was raging across India, a newspaper story painted a heartening picture of the technology’s success. “There are no suicides here and people are prospering on agriculture. The switchover from the conventional cotton to Bollgard or Bt Cotton here has led to a social and economic transformation in the villages [of Bhambraja and Antargaon] in the past three-four years.” (Times of India, October 31, 2008). So heartening was this account that nine months ago, the same story was run again in the same newspaper, word for word. (Times of India, August 28, 2011). Never mind that the villagers themselves had a different story to tell.
“There have been 14 suicides in our village,” a crowd of agitated farmers in Bhambraja told shocked members of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Agriculture in March this year. “Most of them after Bt came here.” The Hindu was able to verify nine that had occurred between 2003 and 2009. Activist groups count five more since then”
In the meantime, we hope that Mr Tanksale will download the official figures here and then provide us with his own evidence based statistics to justify his current remarks in the media. If he cannot do so, he should issue a press statement immediately retracting today’s comments in Business Standard and pledge that he will do his best to instigate a review of the financial aspects related to the current farmers’ crisis. He should also apologise for any distress caused to the farming population.

We hope that in the future, he will understand that the farmers are facing a mental health emergency. It is not beneficial for the Central Bank of India to publicly show their shockingly poor understanding of the complex issues at play in an area where mortality is significantly high. Misconceived comments that cause severe distress to a population of farmers living in a high risk environment is not recommended. Moreover, making non-evidence based statements does not uphold their reputation in the international financial community - known for its attention to detail and accuracy. Their customers, the Indian farmers are the backbone of India and their concerns should be acted upon sensitively.  As a rich and powerful banker, Mr M V Tanksale holds the responsibility to show empathy and kindness towards those at risk of suicide. We await his response because with great power comes great responsibility. We hope he will uphold the reputation and responsibilities of the Central Bank of India. That is the responsibility for accuracy and attention to detail in all aspects of public life.

Author : Rita Pal | Follow the writer on twitter.com/dr_rita39

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