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Truth versus hype.
GAS AND MORE

Fact-checking Modi’s Independence Day speeches of the past four years

By Kuwar Singh

Prime minister Narendra Modi’s Independence Day speech today (Aug. 15) will be the last before the general elections next year. 

Over the past four years, his addresses to the nation from the ramparts of New Delhi’s historic Red Fort have touched upon everything from tax evasion to maternity leave. Here is a fact-check of 15 key statements he’s made on this day since 2014.

2017

GST

The success of GST can be attributed to the hard work that has been put in to make it a success. Technology has made it look like a miracle. The global community is surprised how we were able to roll out GST in such a short time.

False. The GST has been a work in progress for 17 years. Its implementation under Modi has been riddled with complications, including technical glitches.

Demonetisation

The number of new taxpayers filing income tax returns from April 01 to Aug. 05  is 56 lakhs (5.6 million) while in the same period last year only 22 lakhs filed the returns. In a way it has more than doubled. This is the result of our fight against black money.

False. The finance ministry clarified that 5.6 million people had filed their income-tax returns online as compared to 2.2 million people last year, during the five-month period. The increase of 2.4 million was in the number of people filing returns online. These were not necessarily additions to the income-tax base. 

Jan Dhan Yojana

Bank accounts of 29 crore people have been opened. 

True. Almost 46% of Jan Dhan accounts had zero balance in August 2016. The number drastically fell to 24% a year later amidst reports that bank officials were depositing Re1 each in them to achieve this. According to the World Bank’s Global Findex database, some 48% of Indian bank accounts remained inactive in 2017, the highest in the world. 

Paid maternity leave

Our mothers and sisters are an integral unit of our families. Their contribution in making our future is extremely important. And that is why we have decided to increase the paid maternity leave to 26 weeks from the earlier 12 weeks.

True. Parliament passed the Maternity Benefit Amendment Act, 2016, increasing the leave period. But there are concerns that this might make woman professionals less competitive in the job market. Besides, the law does not cover the unorganised sector which employs a majority of the Indian workforce and where women often have to work under hostile conditions. 

Kashmir

The problem will be solved neither by abuse or bullets—it will be solved by embracing all Kashmiris… We have been asking the extremists to join the mainstream.

Misleading. The statement sounded disingenuous in 2017 when pellets fired by government forces had blinded hundreds of Kashmiri civilians. It sounds more so now, given that Modi dumped his Kashmiri ally, chief minister Mehbooba Mufti’s People’s Democratic Party, and broke down the state’s government this year. 

RuPay cards

Crores of RuPay Cards are now available in the country. When all the cards will be operational, it will be the largest number of cards in the world.

False. RuPay has so far issued over 500 million cards and is set to become the biggest card operator in India. Though the domestic card payment scheme has gained ground, it is still far behind international giants such as Visa, which have billions of cards in circulation worldwide.

2016

Jobs

If we have made 2 crore toilets, somebody must have got employment. Cement and iron would have come from somewhere and wood work would have been done somewhere. As the scale of work increases, job opportunities will increase and we have worked in this direction only.

False. The only official estimate of unemployment since Modi’s election has been a survey by the Labour Bureau, which estimated unemployment in 2015 at 5.1% of the workforce, the worst in five years. Earlier this year, the World Bank said employment is declining (pdf) in India mainly due to women leaving the workforce.

Swachh Bharat  

More than 2 crore toilets have been built. 

True. However, the government’s National Family Health Survey found that 52% (pdf) of Indian households still did not have a toilet. The government claims to have since built over 60 million toilets. But the Business Standard newspaper reported that this is an impossible feat, given the funds sanctioned for the scheme and the estimated cost per toilet. The World Bank also refused to release a loan of $1 billion it had promised for Swachh Bharat, citing the absence of independent verification of government claims. 

Foreign investment

India has become the most favoured nation for foreign direct investment. 

Partially true. India was ranked first by FDI Intelligence, a division of the Financial Times newspaper. The country came in 10th in the UN Conference on Trade and Development’s rankings on FDI inflows. India’s FDI growth rate indeed improved since Modi’s election, partly due to near-zero interest rates in developed economies. But it fell to a five-year low in 2018 as global capital flows returned to the developed world.

Electricity

Last year from the ramparts of Red Fort, I had said that within next 1,000 days, we will bring electricity to those 18,000 villages where even after 70 years of independence there was no electricity…. Brothers and sisters, you will be surprised, that at a distance of 3 hours travel from Delhi there is a village in Hathras called Nagla-Fatela. It takes 3 hours to reach Nangla-Fatela. But it took 70 years for electricity to reach there.

False. To the government’s embarrassment, it turned out that the data had been fudged and the village hadn’t been electrified. In April 2018, Modi also announced electrification of all Indian villages, ahead of the 1,000-day deadline. But only 8% of Indian villages have electricity reaching each household. Regular power cuts also mean that reliable electricity continues to evade villages.

Air India

Today, for the first time, I can say with satisfaction that Air India which had a bad image, has succeeded in registering an operational profit last year.

False. The Comptroller and Auditor General reported to parliament in 2017 that Air India had been understating its losses for three years. So the beleaguered airline had not turned an operational profit. Had it turned an operational profit, that also would not be a first. However, over the years, its accumulated losses have grown to Rs57,000 crore ($8.14 billion). No bids were received when the airline was put on sale earlier this year. Salaries of employees, meanwhile, have been delayed again.

Health care

The health care services are getting costlier and, hence, today from the rampart of Red Fort, our government is announcing an important step for the health care of such families which are below the poverty line. We have brought a scheme that in future, for such poor families, the government of India will incur an expenditure of up to one lakh rupees so that my poor brothers are not deprived of health services and their dreams are not shattered.

False. In his 2016 budget speech, finance minister Arun Jaitley had announced the National Health Protection Scheme that would give health coverage of up to Rs1 lakh to low-income individuals. But the proposal lay stagnant waiting for the union cabinet’s approval until Jaitley again proclaimed it in his 2018 budget speech. The cabinet has since approved the scheme, but the wait continues for its implementation.  

2015

Tax evasion

I attended the G-20 summit…On India’s insistence a resolution was passed against black money. All G-20 countries resolved to cooperate with each other and send back the black money to the country where it belonged. We adopted FATCA along with the United States. We have signed agreements with many countries for receiving real time information regarding Indian’s black money. We have taken several measures to check black money.

Partially true. The G20 countries did agree on a document decrying corruption, but no concrete or binding measures were approved. The Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) helps the US government control tax evasion by Americans, but does not directly impact India’s black money problem.

Government corruption

This government does not have any allegation of corruption against it for even a single penny.

False. The Vyapam scam, the pulses scam, and “Modigate” in which top leaders and ministers of the prime minister’s party and government were accused of having colluded with fugitive businessman Lalit Modi, are some of the major allegations leveled at central government in the last four years. By now, the list includes the Rafale deal, high-profile escapes by fugitive businessmen Vijay Mallya and Nirav Modi, and allegations of impropriety and misuse of power by people close to Modi himself.

2014

Model villages

Today I am going to announce a scheme on behalf of the member of parliament: Sansad Aadarsh Gram Yojana…I urge upon the members of parliament to select any one of the villages having population of three to five thousand in your constituency…After 2016, select two more villages for this purpose, before we go for the General Elections in 2019.  

Partially true. Up to 12 of the 26 ministers in Modi’s cabinet have not adopted a village yet. Only 232 members of parliament—less than half the total strength—have adopted villages under the third phase of the project.