Letter to Sh. Pranab Mukherjee by an activist Krishna Raj Rao in response to the President presenting CII-ITC awards

14th January, 2012

Dear Shri Pranab-babu, Rashtrapati-ji,

Your speech today at the presentation of CII-ITC Sustainability Awards 2012 at New Delhi’s Vigyan Bhavan has made crores of people, including tobacco control activists, hang their heads in shame. Makar Sankranti, the festival of wind, has acquired a strange irony for the millions who have lost their lungs, windpipes and voiceboxes. Sir, every cigarette packet says “Smoking Kills”. But you said today that ITC (formerly Indian Tobacco Company), which sells about 80 percent of the cigarettes in India, was a champion of sustainable development?!

About 50 lakh children and women who are struggling to cope after losing their breadwinner in the last five years, plus about 3 lakh persons who are breathing from a hole in their throat, would be shaking his heads in disbelief if they saw this photograph of ITC Chairman Y C Deveshwar with you at the awards ceremony.

You publicly lauded ITC for “building social and environmental capital. You pointed out their “dedicated social investment programme… aimed at empowering stakeholder communities to conserve and manage their social and environmental capital”, and mentioned their other “society-based initiatives like e-Choupal, Social and Farm Forestry programme” for “significant generation of livelihood and natural capital.”

Today, you have done what Shah Rukh Khan might hesitate to do. You, Rashtrapati-ji, have reduced yourself to a brand ambassador of a corporate killer whose main revenue comes from poisoning and crippling its most loyal consumers, while pulling wool over the nation’s eyes.

CII (Confederation of Indian Industry), arguably India’s most forward-looking chamber of commerce, lent its name and goodwill to a killer corporate, through the CII ITC Centre of Excellence for Sustainable Development. ITC is a disguised multinational company selling cigarettes to 80% of India’s smokers. A massive chunk of ITC’s equity is held by British American Tobacco (BAT) Plc, the world’s second-largest tobacco company after Philip Morris. BAT currently is the largest multinational corporation by value of equity held in Indian businesses.

ITC has woven a myth that it is no longer a cigarette company, but a diversified company in FMCG and other sectors. However, ITC’s latest Annual Report reveals that the bulk of its revenues flow from cigarettes. See this chart.

In 2011-12, ITC’s FMCG businesses such as biscuits, snack foods, garments, notebooks and personal care products earned losses of Rs 215 croreswhile sale of cigarettes earned Rs 7,191 crore of pre-tax profits. A further Rs 936 crore were earned from paperboard, packaging and specialty papers used in cigarettes. This is most part of ITC’s total profits were Rs 9,168 crore.

Surely, Pranab-babu, as a former Union finance minister, you of all people are aware of all this?

About 5.7% of India’s population, i.e. 6.9 crore persons, smoke cigarettes. ITC makes and sells about 80% of all cigarettes in India. Research conducted over a 40-year period have revealed that 41-50% of smokers die between the ages of 35 and 69 years, as against about 20% of non-smokers. For cigarette smokers, the age by which half have died is 8-10 years less than for non-smokers. About 80-90% of all lung cancer cases are cigarette smokers. Must we remind you that the annual economic toll of all the medical expenditures and premature deaths would probably rival India’s railway budget? Is this what you term as “sustainable development”?

Sir, we ask you: By what yardstick is ITC Limited a champion of sustainability? And with what moral authority did Mr Y C Deveshwar stand at your side to be photographed while giving away an award for sustainability to Steel Authority of India (SAIL)?

If these are the standards adopted by Rashtrapati Bhavan in 2013, then perhaps we can look forward to your sharing the stage with Afzal Guru at next year’s awards ceremony?

Yours sincerely,
Krishnaraj Rao,
Mumbai

Copies endorsed to:

  1. Mr Adi Godrej, President , CII & Chairman, Godrej Group
  2. Mr S Gopalakrishnan, President Designate, CII & Co-Founder and Executive Co-Chairman, Infosys Technologies Limited
  3. Mr Ajay S Shriram, Vice President, CII & Chairman & Senior Managing Director of DCM Shriram Consolidated Limited (DSCL)
  4. Mr Chandrajit Banerjee, Director General, CII
  5. Mr Y C Deveshwar, Chairman, ITC Ltd.

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