Note: This is the first part in a five-series rebuttal and examination of how well the Modi government’s flagship governance schemes have functioned so far.
On September 13, The Wire published an article titled ‘Modi May Have Repackaged 23 UPA Schemes But Most of them Are Working Better Now’.
The authors’ main thesis is that even if the names of the schemes have been changed or have been slightly repackaged, the Narendra Modi government is implementing the schemes much more efficiently than the previous government.
Towards the end of the article, the authors chart out a comparison of the performance of various schemes and projects. However, there are deep flaws with this analysis. Firstly, like many BJP spokespersons, they mostly stick to the curious method of comparing the UPA government’s last two years with the Modi government’s first three years.
This, while seemingly not unfair, presents a flawed picture because it is widely known that the last two years of UPA-II were likely its worst when it came to performance. A more wholesome comparison would be to check the first three years of UPA-II with the first three years of the Modi government. A government is changed by electorate because of incumbency, which usually sets in after the first half of the full term. And a newly-elected government, in its enthusiasm to prove its worth, tries hard to please the people who elected them and show them that the party was worth electing. By the middle of the term, reality catches up – for both the electorate and the government. Hence, comparing the last two years of an incumbent government which was in power for ten years continuously in two consecutive terms with the first two years of a government which belongs to a totally different political dispensation is absolutely one sided, illogical and beyond the ethics of fair play.
In most of the points, they have shown their dependency on the answers given in either houses of parliament, which itself contradicts the data mentioned on the concerned ministries’ websites. Here we are giving more weightage to the regularly-updated websites than the answers given in parliament for two reasons:
- These websites are updated on daily basis, and
- The government and the leading party use the data mentioned on theses websites as their marketing tool. If answers given in parliament are more accurate than the data mentioned on these websites and government archive files, then it is a sad state for the parliamentary system itself because most of the websites are lies. And if they say the websites are more accurate because of regular updation, we have to reach the same conclusion – ministers were misleading the parliament.
Nevertheless, let us analyse the claims put forward by Mohitkumar Daga and Parag Mohanty. They started with the soil health card scheme. The years chosen for comparison are UPA (2011-14) and Modi government (2015-17). The mentioned numbers are Rs 2.8 crore and Rs 9.2 crore cards respectively for the mentioned time periods. Their attached links opened the below shown documents.
As can be seen, the links have nothing to do with soil health cards but instead lead to the Atal Pension Yojana Scheme and the Swachh Bharat Mission.
Irrespective of the documents they present, let us actually check the government data for factual numbers. This report explains the scheme launched by the UPA and talks about other pre-existing schemes. One has to wonder where the authors got the number of 2.8 crore cards, because this PIB release from 2014 talks about the issuance of 48 crore soil health cards as of March 2012, with Tamil Nadu topping charts.
This PIB release from Ministry of Agriculture for 2015-16 give us a clear picture on the numbers under the Modi government – samples collected: 90 lakh, target: 104 lakh; testing done: 60 lakh; and a total of 4.5 crore cards will be distributed to farmers.
The numbers on the soil health card website of the government match the numbers claimed by the authors for the Modi government’s performance. But this national portal says that both micro and macro nutrients and physical parameters are to be tested and mentioned on the cards. Here lies the catch. This section of the same website gives data which show all the samples collected are not tested for all micro nutrients. Even though the total samples collected somewhat matches the numbers mentioned by the authors, the samples tested for each macro nutrient show a huge difference – not all the samples collected were sent for complete micro nutrients testing. In the case of samples collected for NPK (Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium), the story is more bizarre. Out of the 50.7 million samples collected for testing for NPK, 12.24 million samples were tested for N, 19.26 million samples tested for P and 19.04 million samples tested for K. The most interesting thing here is that all the samples collected are not tested for all three nutrients; but three different sets of samples are collected for testing three different nutrients, and then added up to the same total. This section of the same website elaborates on state-wise numbers. (The mentioned numbers are upto February 28, 2017. The state-wise number of collected samples has not been updated on the website after that.)
Taking a step back, there is reason to believe that the quest for high numbers of soil cards distributed is not directly correlated with the success of the programme. This government portal gives us the details of state-wise numbers of soil testing facilities. In many states, several districts have no facility at all. And almost in all the other facilities across the country, labs cannot do a complete test. For example, the maximum number of labs in Gujarat don’t have the facility to test for micro nutrients, sulphur and boron all at one place. Not a single one has a sulphur testing facility. If success in the implementation of a program is just in achieving the set target numbers without looking at the scheme’s real objectives, the soil health card programme is going the right way and we should believe what the government’s claim is. This is another case where large numbers can gloss over the real facts.
Also read: Too Many Dreams Dangled Before the Nation, Have Gujaratis Seen Through the Conjurer’s Trick?
The second scheme mentioned in the article is Indira Awas Yojana (IAY), compared with the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY). Using the standing committee on rural development’s report for the 16th Lok Sabha, the article claims the total number of houses constructed from 2011 to 2015 was 54,30,877 units. They mention that they used partial data.
At the same time, however, when they refer to the implementation success of the PMAY, instead of mentioning the actual number of houses constructed, they mentioned how 1,00,00,000 houses were approved, citing this Q&A in the Lok Sabha.
But what are the actual numbers? To check IAY numbers, we can use data from a CAG report. The reason we have to depend on a CAG report for data is due to the bizarre deletion of original sources like this. The table pasted below is from the CAG report on IAY, tabled in parliament on December 19, 2014.
This report proves that in the first three years of UPA-II, 85.72 lakh houses were constructed, which is 28.573 lakh homes per year.
Open this site to see the web address and where it is taking the visitor. We have a unique situation here. Most scheme websites under this government show off their data boldly on the site itself, but for the government claims on PMAY we have to come here. If you select 2016-17, there is something very interesting on this page. Notice the numbers mentioned in the last two lines. It claims that for 32,14,564 houses constructed in financial year 2016-17, numbers could not be updated due to network/ IT related issues. Curiously, this line has been present since April 2017 and one should notice the date in the screenshot – October 19, 2017. So for more than six and a half months, this department could not rectify a small technical glitch in their website; but still they could keep updating the numbers of the current fiscal regularly. Check this link for confirmation. (Once opened, select the financial year and IAY New Construction for real numbers. If you select FY 2016-17, check the last two lines in the screen.)
But the real numbers are here on the Ministry of Rural Development’s website. The below screenshots are self-explanatory and nothing more needs to be written to prove that the published article was not using the factual numbers, with the intention to mislead readers and create a hype over the non-existing success of the PMAY. For that, they wilfully hid the IAY numbers of year-wise completed units. The total number of completed houses under the scheme stands at 4,60,889 in financial year 2016-17. And for the current FY, when we crossed more than six and half months, it stands at 1,50,770. If we calculate the target vs achievements mentioned in the dashboards, we get a 10.7% completion rate for 2016-17. And for 2017-18 it is more pathetic, at 2.3%. This is better implementation?
The third point of comparison is the Rajiv Awas Yojana (RAY) scheme vs the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana – Urban (PMAY-U). Here too, citing an answer in 16th Lok Sabha, the authors claim that under RAY, from 2009 to 2014, approval was given to 1,60,314 units; but only 19,920 units were completed. But under PMAY-U, they claim, 21,00,475 were approved on 2016-17.
Though RAY was announced by the then prime minister in his address to nation on August 15, 2009, the preparatory mode – pilot project – started in 2011 with a two-year window to complete it. Based on that, RAY became a centrally-sponsored scheme in its current form only on September 3, 2013, with a timespan lasting till 2022. Hence, the claim of the authors on these numbers needs to be corrected. This document will give the background to the scheme itself. These links (here and here) will give a detailed state-wise progress report.
The authors’ claim of such huge numbers are purely based on the numbers published by the
Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation and the numbers approved, not completed. If approval is equal to completion, India would have been a different country altogether.
The factual numbers are, 162 projects approved; under this 162 projects 1,17,707 houses sanctioned, 41,942 completed and 47,475 houses in progress under at stages of construction as on October 3, 2017. Interestingly, both these numbers are from the same ministry – one for advertising and the other one (the factual one) for real consumption, it seems. The links are here and here.
For a minute, let us look into the mission period and the total target. Calculate the speed with which the scheme is progressing. As per estimates, nearly 20 million affordable houses have to be built by 2022 for the completion of the mission, and the scheme was started in 2015. Approximately 2.8 million houses per year have to be constructed to achieve the mission target. As per data submitted by the authors, 1,33,999 houses were completely constructed as of July 10, 2017. These numbers themselves can judge the veracity of the claim of better implementation.
Clean India programmes
The fourth point in the article was on a rather interesting topic – a comparison of the Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan with the Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan. Authors Daga and Mohanty cite another reply in the Lok Sabha to give the numbers of household toilets constructed in the last two years (they mention 95,35,436) of UPA and this link to connect the reader to the dashboard of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan website, which gives daily updated numbers. They have said 4,55,81,550 toilets were constructed till August 3 this year. Again, they have taken the last two years of the UPA to compare to the first three year of the Modi government, which is misleading.
Let us check the actual numbers and look at the first three years of UPA-II to know more. This government data shows that the exact number of toilets/latrines constructed in the first three years of UPA-II (2009-10 to 2011-12) was 6,24,76,819. This clearly shows the Modi government’s achievement of 4,55,81,550 is 1,68,95,269 less than UPA-II’s achievement.
When the authors refer to the 95,35,436 toilets constructed in last two years of UPA, they are attempting to mislead the readers with an incorrect comparison. The comparison below will explain the difference more easily.
It very clearly shows that except its third year, the UPA-II government’s numbers were much higher than that of the current regime. It is thus easy to understand that selective use of data will be very misleading and provide a very different picture from the truth.
As we are discussing the Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan, let us check a few more important points pertaining to this particular scheme’s claimed success. The scheme’s guidelines mandate an yearly independent third party verification of the progress of the scheme, because the scheme is funded partly by the World Bank – a $1.5-billion loan for a period of 18 years with an initial five-year moratorium on repayment. This disbursement letter mentions that the first tranche of $147.5 million will be disbursed by April 2016. This report of the World Bank dated February 5, 2017 says the progress of the work is “moderately unsatisfactory”. If the government is implementing the project at this breakneck speed with precision, why should the World Bank find it moderately unsatisfactory? There are two interesting things here. One, the World Bank is yet to disburse the two tranches due on 2016 and 2017 due to the non-submission of the independent third party verification report and the government of India is paying a commitment fee of 0.5%. The terms and conditions in the loan agreement clearly state the disbursal is based on the third party verification report submitted and that will be a yearly affair till 2022. This Economic Times report from January 10, 2017 details the complete timeline of this loan, disbursals and the “commitment fee” India is paying. With different articles like this and this in reputed publications, the government was forced to issue this press release to clarify that an independent third party assessment and verification of the implementation success of the programme is already in place. But that won’t satisfy the World Bank as the criteria they were asking for does not fit with what government is doing – using government agencies for the survey.
If the Modi government is so certain of its success, why won’t they do a yearly survey as mandated in the loan agreement?
Curiously, government is spending only 1%, 7% less than the mandated 8%, on the information, education and awareness campaign, this Centre for Policy Research study notes. As per the National Family Health Survey 4, only 48.4% of the households in India are using improved sanitation facilities. If one takes only rural numbers, it further comes down to 36.7%. That means only 36.7% of the toilets constructed under the scheme are used as toilets/latrines. There is another CPR survey covering five states and 7,500 families which points out the scope and scale of corruption in the implementation. The screenshots below will explain this.
The CPR study, in no uncertain terms, talks about the kind of corruption already taking place by duplication of data, fictional inhabitation in villages and listing villages that doesn’t match with local government directories or census data. The same study found that only 24% of the households who constructed toilets since 2014 received government grants. The Swachh Bharat Mission (Gramin)’s guidelines inform us that the amount allotted is Rs 12,000 per household in rural areas. The same CPR study found that only 24% of the surveyed households who constructed toilets after April 2014 received any government grants. In addition, 29% of the households on the achievement list did not have a toilet. Is this what the authors meant by “better implementation” by the Modi government?
The fifth point in the article is the Swavalambhan scheme, which became the Atal Pension Yojana (APY). The authors primarily take their data from a Pension Fund Regulatory and Development Authority annual report, which says that the Swavalambhan scheme had 41.46 lakh subscribers from 2010 to 2015. Also quoting this answer in the Lok Sabha, they state that Atal Pension Yojana has 58 lakh subscribers from 2015 to 2017.
This central government press release from 2015 says, “the scheme is open to bank account holders in the prescribed age group” and that “the Central Government would also co-contribute 50% of the total contribution or Rs. 1,000 per annum, whichever is lower, for a period of 5 years for those joining the scheme before 31st December, 2015 and are not members of any statutory social security scheme and are not income taxpayers”.
In this context, let us check what the Swavalambhan scheme was.
The most simple explanation is given by the Department of Financial Services here. What is the major difference between the Swavalambhan scheme and APY if both are contributory and meant for anyone who is “not part of a statutory pension / provident scheme”? It says the Modi government decided to launch a “new scheme” because the pension benefit at 60 years of age was not clear in the Swavalambhan scheme. These two press releases on the Swavalambhan scheme and APY will explain that both schemes have the same terms and conditions. But the Swavalambhan scheme had an option to exit at the age of 50 or a minimum tenure of 20 years (whichever is later), provided “with 40% minimum annuitisation of pension wealth. Exit before age 50 or tenure less than 20 years, is possible with 80% minimum annuitisation of pension wealth”. That means that the claim on lack of clarity is not true because both schemes are under the National Pension Scheme and follow the same principles and regulations.
But there are certain differences. One important difference is the upper age limit for joining the scheme. In the Swavalambhan scheme, the limit is anyone upto 50 years of age or after paying for 20 years, but for the APY the joining age has been limited to 40. The most important difference, however, that most people missed is the government contribution part. In the former scheme, the government was contributing Rs 1,000 per year for anyone who joined the scheme till 2012-13. For 2013-14 and subsequent joiners till 2016-17, the government contribution was upto 2016-17. But the Modi government gave the same five-year Rs 1,000 support for people who joined till December 31, 2015 in the APY, and once APY launched all Swavalambhan scheme accounts migrated to APY. Voluntary withdrawal before 60 years of age is not permitted in the APY. So what did it achieve except the name change, the reduction in upper age limit and reduction in minimum contribution from Rs 500?
We have an interesting document here from the PFRDA, which is asking all Swavalambhan scheme subscribers to migrate to the APY. The documents says the Swavalambhan scheme had 45 lakh subscribers. Bankbazaar.com explains it in a more simple and clear manner: “Existing subscribers of the Swavalambhan scheme will be automatically migrated to the Atal Pension Yojana plan, with an additional option of choosing to pull out. The migration will be done mainly for subscribers aged between 18 and 40 years”. A PFRDA circular dated January 11, 2017 reiterates the same. But neither the National Pension System Trust nor the PFRDA released any data on the migrated numbers and till the time we have a clear picture on the migrated numbers, we cannot substantiate the claim of APY’s runaway success as we know all APY subscribers are not new joiners.
Response from Daga and Mohanty
At the outset, it is important to reiterate that nowhere in our original article have we accepted that the Modi government has repackaged UPA schemes. On the contrary, the crux of the article is that the schemes “have undergone major changes in at least one of their key elements – goal, design and delivery” and are therefore more efficient. The data presented at the end of the article has been provided to demonstrate the improved performance of these schemes.
In his rebuttal, Ravi Nair has questioned some of the data points used in the article on the basis of their sources, the time period for which the data is presented and the indicators used. We believe that these accusations by Nair are unfair and the data used in the article is accurate to the best of our knowledge. We would like to lay before you the broad principles which have been used in selecting the data points.
- We have relied only on government-generated data for both the UPA and the NDA time period without referring to any third party data. We would like to state that we have not independently verified the accuracy of the data presented by the ministries during the UPA and NDA periods. It is Nair’s prerogative to question the veracity of the government data and we do not take any responsibility for the accuracy of the sources we have cited.
- Whenever multiple datasets are available, we have relied on the most reliable dataset. Wherever possible, ministerial answers to questions raised in Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha or data presented to departmental standing committees have been relied on.
- In almost all cases, we have attempted to present data for the entire time period of the scheme. In the sole case of Indira Awaas Yojana, where the data covers only a part of the time period, we have transparently said that partial data has been used.
Given these principles, we are confident that the data selection was objective and rigorous to the maximum extent possible.
Nair has also claimed that we have resorted to the “curious method of comparing the UPA government’s last two years with the Modi government’s first three years”. While Nair’s above statement implies that this is the case with all the data points, he only questions the time period in the case of schemes like soil health cards, Indira Awaas Yojana and Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan. Hence, out of the 23 schemes mentioned in our data table, data for as many as 20 schemes covers the full length of the particular scheme. Nair’s objections to the remaining three schemes are dealt with below.
In case of the Indira Awaas Yojana, we have mentioned upfront that the data is for a partial time period. In the case of the Nirmal Bharat Abhiyaan, the data has been used from 2012 onwards as the Nirmal Bharat Abhiyaan was launched in 2012. It was in 2012 that the UPA significantly restructured an earlier sanitation scheme (called Total Sanitation Campaign). As the article deals with the structure and design of the schemes and NBA was significantly different from the TSC, data from 2012 onwards has been used. Nair’s claims on the numbers regarding the issuance of soil health cards need some examination. The data on the issuance of soil health cards for 2011-2014 and 2015-2017 is available here and here respectively. The relevant links in the original article did not direct to the right sources due to an oversight. In terms of the data, the earlier scheme (National Project on Management of Soil Health and Fertility) is not comparable to the current soil health card scheme, as soil testing was only one part of the broader scheme. The scheme document does not even mention soil health cards specifically. Similarly, earlier it was for the states to take up soil testing under various agricultural schemes. In contrast, the current soil health card scheme is being run in mission mode with a clear focus on the issuance of soil health cards to individual farmers. Therefore, contrary to Nair’s claims, the UPA didn’t have a specific soil health card scheme to compare with. We have therefore relied on a Lok Sabha answer for the data on issuance of soil cards by the states for the most recent available time period.
In the case of IAY and RAY, Nair has also claimed that we have used approval numbers for the NDA schemes while using actual construction numbers for the UPA schemes. It is important to note that in the case where we have used numbers for approvals, we have mentioned so clearly. It is apparent that in the case of RAY, we have provided the number of approvals for both RAY and PMAY-U to enable a fair comparison. In the case of IAY, no reliable data on number of approvals during the time period was available. On the other hand, PMAY-G was launched as recently as November 2016 and the target completion period for houses under the scheme is from 6-12 months, so at this time the numbers on actual construction may not reflect the actual state of implementation. Hence the approval numbers were used as a proxy indicator.
Our original article included all the data sources used by us for the readers to examine. While both Nair and we are entitled to our opinions and interpretations, we leave it to the readers to interpret the data objectively and draw their conclusions. Once again, we stand by the data and the arguments we have presented in our article.
Another thing that we would like to point out that while we have been engaged by the BJP to help them on select election campaigns, we are neither officials nor spokespersons of the BJP. In fact, the original article clearly mentioned that the opinions expressed in the article are personal views and opinions of the authors. Therefore, any part of the original article or this response shouldn’t be attributed to the BJP.
Ravi Nair can be contacted on Twitter: @t_d_h_nair. A portion of this analysis appeared previously on Janata ka Reporter.
Mohitkumar Daga and Parag Mohanty have been engaged by the Bharatiya Janata Party to consult on election campaigns. However, the views expressed by them are their personal views.