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Across the Aisle by P Chidambaram: I am Mohammed Zubair

I have before me two attractive booklets and several pamphlets, all titled “8 years: Seva, Sushasan, Garib Kalyan”. Roughly translated, the words mean “Service, Good Governance, Welfare of the Poor”. The Government of India has issued these glossy catalogues of its achievements in the eight years since 2014 (ending May 31, 2022).

Across the Aisle by P Chidambaram: I am Mohammed Zubair
Akhil Bharatiya Mahila Congress activists raise slogans during a protest against hike in goods and services tax in New Delhi (PTI Image)

Fact-checking is serious business. It requires an unbiased mind, wide reading, plodding research and academic credibility. Fact-checking is not fishing in troubled waters or gaining mileage out of genuine mistakes. Fact-checking is not nit-picking, one must make allowance for puffery. Fact-checking is not a ditch inspector’s job, it is sorting out the diamonds from a heap of stones and marking the stones.

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I have before me two attractive booklets and several pamphlets, all titled “8 years: Seva, Sushasan, Garib Kalyan”. Roughly translated, the words mean “Service, Good Governance, Welfare of the Poor”. The Government of India has issued these glossy catalogues of its achievements in the eight years since 2014 (ending May 31, 2022).

Achievements, in my understanding, mean facts. What has the government done, in fact. It would be stupid to argue that nothing was done in eight years. Any government in office for a reasonable period of time and that spends public money will have some achievements to its credit. For example, I have maintained that as long there is a government that does not actively do damage, India’s GDP will grow at 5 per cent a year because agriculture is in the private sector, the bulk of the services is in the private sector and a substantial proportion of manufacturing is in the private sector. A government that does little or nothing can do little harm. It is only when a government actively does damage — like demonetisation — that the economy is gravely hurt.

There are other instances of active damage by the Modi government. I am not questioning the intentions, I am questioning the obstinacy in defending, and persisting with, demonstrably wrong policies. The GST law is one such policy that had birth-defects. Electoral Bonds is another: it has allowed corporates to collaborate with a party and, through the party, influence the formation of the government — before and after the elections. Agnipath is a recent example: in course of time, we will realise that the scheme has turned the Indian Army (and the Navy and Air Force too) into a contract-soldiers’ army that has little will to fight and less to lay down lives.

The subject of this essay, however, is mundane. How far are the claims in the booklets and pamphlets true? Allowing for puffery, is there a deliberate attempt to make false and misleading claims? Here are some conclusions as a result of fact-checking by different sources:

Beyond Puffery
Claim: PM Awas Yojana (Urban) was launched in 2016 to provide affordable housing to all urban people by 2022. According to the Minister, after assessing the need, 1.15 crore houses had been sanctioned; 70 lakh houses had been grounded; and 46 lakh houses had been handed over to the beneficiaries.
Fact: 58.59 lakh houses were completed. The scheme was not extended after March 31, 2022. There are, and there will be, thousands of street people in the towns and cities of India without a proper house.

Claim: 99.99 per cent households were electrified.

Fact: A survey conducted by Smart Power India in association with NITI Aayog revealed that 13 per cent of India’s population either uses non-grid sources for electricity or does not use any electricity at all. On the day the PM claimed (in Munich) that “electricity has reached all villages”, the media reported that steps were being taken on a war footing basis to take electricity to one of the hamlets in the native village of the NDA candidate for President, Smt Droupadi Murmu! According to the National Family Health Survey (NFHS 5), 88 per cent of the population already lived in households with electricity in 2015-16. The Modi government added 8.8 per cent to make it 96.8 per cent. There is no shame in admitting that electricity has yet to reach several villages and remote habitations and that there are several thousand households that do not have electricity.

FAR FROM TRUE
Claim: 4,371 cities were declared Open Defecation Free. Sanitation increased to 100 per cent under Swachh Bharat Mission — Gramin. More than 11 crore individual household toilets were constructed.

Fact: A 2021 survey by the South Asian Labour Network found that 45 per cent of India’s population is still practising open defecation. It was also found that 12 lakh toilets said to have been built were never actually built. Of the 4,320 cities declared ODF, only 1,276 have been reported to have hygienic and well-maintained toilets with water.

Claim: India will be free of malnutrition by 2022. Battle: Access to Nutrition. Weapon: Mission POSHAN. Outcomes: A total outlay of over Rs 1,81,000 crore to ensure proper nutrition.

Fact: The Global Hunger Index (October 2021) ranked India at 101 out of 116 countries. NHFS-5 brought more bad news. Of women in the age group 15-49, a majority (57 per cent) were anaemic. Only 11.3 per cent of children of age 6-23 months received an adequate diet. The proportions of children who were underweight (32.1 per cent), stunted (35.5), wasted (19.3) and severely wasted (7.7) are too high.

There are some claims in the booklets that are true and some that are nearly true allowing for some exaggeration, but many are simply boasts. All governments are guilty of such boasts, but this government goes over the top and never admits to any deficiency. I recall Harry Truman’s wise words: “Trust, but verify”.

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