How Do PM Modi’s Big Ticket Announcements From the Red Fort Square Up?

Over the years, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has made several promises – from doubling farmers' incomes to improving internet access and Swachh Bharat. The Wire looks how the government has fared in these aspects.

New Delhi: As Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday delivered his last Independence Day speech before the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, The Wire looks at some of the big ticket announcements made from the ramparts of the Red Fort in previous years and how they square up now.

Farmers’ income

First, an issue that concerns 70% of India, was the promise made in 2018 of doubling farmers’ income by the 75th year of independence – i.e. August 2022. The Modi government first made this promise in February 2016 and again in 2022. Agriculture minister Narendra Tomar told parliament in July 2022 that the farmers’ income has doubled. However, no figures were provided to make a clear-cut distinction between what they earned in 2016 and what it was in 2022.

Quoting NSSO data from January-December 2019, the Hindu Businessline in 2022 said, “The average monthly income per agricultural household, from all sources, was estimated at Rs 10,218 when compared to Rs 6,426 in 2012-13.” This meant farm incomes had gone up by 59% over the previous seven years in 2019.

NewsClick reported that “to double farmers’ income from the 2015-16 level, income needed to grow at a rate of 10.4% per annum from 2015-16 to 2022-23. Contrarily, farmers’ income grew at a meagre pace of 3% per annum between 2012-13 and 2018-19, as per the latest data released by [the] Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation.”

Budget 2023-24 did not even mention the promise of “doubling of farmers’ income” and with the slowing of “agricultural growth of 3.47% in the Modi period of 2014-15 to 2022-23”, this appeared to be a “distant dream”.

Farmers participate in a tractor march on Republic Day, as part of their protest against the Centre’s farm laws, in Gurugram, January 26, 2021. Photo: PTI

FDI inflows

Watching India become the business capital of the world with foreign direct investment (FDI) pouring in was another dream of the Modi government. Prasar Bharati News Service quoted the prime minister as saying at an Indo-US virtual ‘India Ideas Summit 2020’ that “FDI inflows in 2019-20 were $74 billion, a fifth more than the previous year. It was noteworthy that even during the pandemic, $20 billion of foreign investment flowed into India between April and July this year.”

To illustrate that point, he said there are half a billion internet users in India, and the number in rural areas exceeds that in urban areas. Another half a billion are in the process of being connected and the food processing sector is expected to be worth half a trillion dollars by 2025, etc.

The picture is, however, a little skewed as The Wire reported in July this year.

Former chief economic advisor to the Modi government, Arvind Subramanian, said in his report that India has not been able to raise FDI inflows from the low annual average of 2% of GDP. In fact, in recent years, it has gone further down to 1.5% of GDP.

“Foreign investment inflows (FDI) into India may be drying up even faster in 2023-24 than in 2022-23, when net FDI inflows declined 27% to a mere $28 billion. It was the biggest decline in a decade. Many global analysts have expressed concern over the unprecedented decline in net FDI inflows in 2022-23. Now, it seems that 2023-24 could be a bigger cause for worry.”

A large part of the $20 billion FDI inflow that the prime minister spoke of was on account of what Reliance Jio raised for 33% of the company. These investments did not really result in an increase in fresh employment. “The acquisition of technology shares formed a substantial chunk of FDI inflows into India in recent years. This has dried up in 2023, and is clearly showing up in the 92% decline in cross-border mergers and acquisitions,” as pointed out by a Grant Thornton analyst on CNBC TV18.

“The last two years of Modi’s tenure may bring in the lowest FDI. The government is trying its best to build a narrative projecting India is the fastest-growing economy post-COVID-19. But the reality is that there is a general decline in FDI flows globally, and India is not bucking the trend,” The Wire reported.

One Rank One Pension

One Rank One Pension (OROP) was the government’s calling card where the defence forces were concerned. OROP was a promise that Modi said he would implement if voted to power in 2014.

By 2015, the prime minister was less ebullient. At a Mann ki Baat radio address in 2015, Modi said, “For 40 years, this (OROP) question has been persisting. Nothing has happened so far…It is not as simple as we thought, it is complicated, and 40 years have added to the complications.”

In response to a June 2019 parliament question on the status of the implementation of the scheme, the government said orders had been issued in November 2015 for implementing the scheme with effect from July 2014. Payment of arrears to the tune of Rs 10,795.40 crore has been made from Defence Pension Budget Estimates, the response said. In the same breath, it also admitted that there is no separate allocation/budgeting towards OROP.

At the end of nine years, the government has realised that OROP is easier said than done, with ex-servicemen hauling the government to the Supreme Court. In March this year, the Union government told the Supreme Court that it is unable to pay OROP arrears in a single instalment but will do so in three equal instalments by 2024.

The court asked the Union government to comply with its 2022 judgment on the payment of OROP arrears to ex-service personnel and asked it to pay dues for 2019-2022 worth Rs 28,000 crore by February 28, 2024. In December 2022, the government revised the pension scheme to benefit 25 lakh pensioners.

Digital India

Demonetisation was hailed as a push to digitalise India.

In his 2020 Independence Day speech, the prime minister promised to connect ‘every village in the country’ with optical fibre within the coming 1,000 days.

“In the last five years, 1.5 lakh gram panchayats in the country have been connected with optical fibre cables. Before 2014, only 5 dozen panchayats in the country were connected with optical fibre. Now, our aim is to connect every village with high-speed internet. This goal will be met in the coming thousand days,” he had said.

The National Optical Fibre Network – later renamed as Bharat Net – was launched in 2011, to connect 2.5 lakh gram panchayats. However, according to the prime minister, the scheme took off only after his government came to power.

By 2022 this picture had improved further as per a response to a parliament question. “As on 30.09.2022, a total of 35.5 Lakh Route Kms Optical Fibre Cable (OFC) has already been laid in the country, which will facilitate the increasing demand for better bandwidth, resilient and high volume connectivity,” Union minister of state for communications Devusinh Chauhan said in a written reply to a question in the Rajya Sabha in December 2022.

Map depicting size of India’s internet. Photo: Indi Samarajiva/Flickr CC-BY-2.0

A closer look at the project throws up the following facts.

An IAMAI report of 2022 says India has 52% active internet users with rural India driving growth. But urban growth was 6% in 2022 and rural India witnessed only a 14% growth.

The deadline which had quietly been shifted from 1,000 days in 2018 to 2025. Even this looks difficult to implement.

“Involvement of multiple agencies, slow progress by implementing agencies, delay in right of way clearances from government instrumentalities regulating forest land, railway lines, defence areas, highways, oil and gas pipelines, or any other agencies or departments are some of the reasons for delay in implementation of the BharatNet project,” minister of state for communications Devusinh Chauhah had said in Parliament in December last year.

The PPP model the government was banking on too hasn’t found any takers.

“Global bids were invited on 20 July 2021 for implementation of BharatNet under  PPP model. However no response was received from any of the prospective bidders. A revised strategy for BharatNet is accordingly being formulated,” Chauhan had said in July last year in Parliament.

Another reason is underspending of funds allocated for the project. “A significant cut in spending from the Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF) in FY23 against the Budget targets indicates that for the sixth continuous year, the government’s spending to provide connectivity to rural and remote areas to bridge the digital divide has slowed down,” says a Financial Express report.

Swachh Bharat

In his Independence Day speech in 2015, Modi said that his government would solve the country’s sanitation problems by 2019. In his next Independence Day speech, he said that two crore toilets had been built and 70,000 villages made open defecation free (ODF). In his 2019 speech, Modi said that in the “next few weeks”, India will declare itself ODF.

On October 2, 2019 rural India declared itself ODF. Coincidentally, 2019 was also the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, the self-effacing champion of cleanliness.

“We changed the narrative. People used to hesitate in talking about toilets. Now, it is a part of the conversation from Bollywood to the field of sports,” Modi said then.

“In 60 months, we have provided toilets to over 60 crore people by constructing over 11 crore toilets. The world is amazed on hearing this,” he said. As per Census 2011, 70% of rural households did not own a toilet. Now, according to the Swachh Bharat Mission database, 100% of households in India have access to toilets.

In 2022, The Wire did a 24-part series covering the sanitation crisis in each Indian state. Some of the preliminary findings said the Swachh Bharat Mission websites have been showcasing over 30% manufactured data, with over 12 lakh toilets ‘constructed’ between 2014 and 2020 that do not exist, and beneficiaries who have no knowledge of the toilets apparently built in their houses.

Another report found that data on several districts’ ODF status was also found to be manufactured, with over 20 million people in rural areas still defecating in the open. Bihar, Odisha and Tripura are the worst performers in actual ODF estimates, despite declarations to the contrary on their government websites.

The report added:

“Many surveys since 2017 have found that of the households which have toilet access, over 30% are never used. In 2021, the survey found, more than 45% of India’s population still defecates in the open. The reason for this is the non-maintenance of built toilets in combination with usage of substandard materials for construction. False claims by the government like ‘5.5 lakh sanitation workers have been linked to social welfare schemes’ further worsens their conditions. With poor implementation in rural areas, over three lakh sanitation workers and waste workers are facing risks – and not benefits – from toilets built under this Mission, since they live on the peripheries of ‘dumping sites’.”