On 20 June, Prime Minister Narendra Modi interacted with farmers across India through a video conference. One of these farmers was Chandramani Kaushik from Chhattisgarh’s Kanker district. In the video conference, Chandramani claimed that her farming income had doubled.
An ABP News report from July 6 (video on top), however, said Chandramani had been tutored to say what she did.
A reporter from ABP News went to Kanharpuri village to investigate Chandramani’s claims, and asked whether her income from dhan (paddy) farming had indeed doubled. Chandramani told him that her income hadn’t actually doubled from farming paddy.
Instead, she – as well as the village sarpanch – claimed that officials from Delhi’s Agriculture Department had tutored Chandramani to say this, with the promise that she would be able to speak to the Prime Minister.
A major controversy erupted immediately. On Monday, unnamed government “sources” responded by calling ABP’s news report “fake news”. According to The Times of India, these sources said that it wasn’t paddy-farming but growing sitaphal that had doubled her income.
“The farmer had specifically told PM that her income doubled as a result of value addition with sitaphal farming and not dhan (paddy) production. The media house suggested that the income did not increase with the dhan production, which was never anyone’s claim,” TOI quoted the government sources as saying. According to the government, even Chandramani admitted that news was twisted and alleged that the media house never went to her farm.
Starting on July 8, Union Ministers, including Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, Minister of State for Information & Broadcasting Rajyavardhan Rathore and Minister of State for Agriculture Gajendra Singh Shekhawat defended Modi on twitter.
ABP News, however, didn’t take this lying down. The media house sent a reporter back to Kanharpuri to re-investigate. “This is ABP News’ response to the questions you have raised,” they tweeted on Monday night, addressing the ministers who had dubbed their report “fake news”.
This time, the report investigated whether sitaphal farming and extraction of pulp had in fact doubled Chandramani’s income, and whether there was any pressure on Chandramani to say so.
Chandramani had originally claimed that her daily income had increased from Rs 50-60 per day to a profit of Rs 700. However, according to the report, what Chandramani failed to mention was that that Rs 700 is shared among twelve women who form the group.
According to the news channel’s calculations, this essentially comes down to Rs 58 per day per woman – which is only slightly higher than the amount Chandramani used to earn in the first place, and certainly not double.
The report also spoke to another woman, Pushpa Manikpuri from the cooperative, presenting her views as well in its video report.