State of ‘the state of the nation’

P Chidambaram writes: In the case of Mr Modi, however, his speeches on August 15 are unremarkable because they are not very different from his speeches at election rallies — minus his trademark jibes at the Opposition (e.g., Didi-oh-Didi).

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One of the most anticipated speeches of world leaders is the annual State of the Union address by the US President to the US Congress because the policies of the US impact other countries. Not so keenly watched, yet of considerable interest, is the annual address of the Prime Minister of India on August 15, India’s Independence Day. Independence Day celebration is not a colourful spectacle like the Republic Day parade, but the speech makes up for the floats, the march-past and the fly-past.

The Independence Day address from the ramparts of the Red Fort has acquired a special significance since the days of Jawaharlal Nehru. I call it the State of the Nation speech. That is one tradition of Nehru that Mr Narendra Modi has not debunked or discarded. In the case of Mr Modi, however, his speeches on August 15 are unremarkable because they are not very different from his speeches at election rallies — minus his trademark jibes at the Opposition (e.g., Didi-oh-Didi).

Now, to the substance of the eighth speech of Mr Modi. It was mainly a recount of his government’s ‘achievements’. Sadly, few in the media were willing to fact-check the claims and announcements (as they do in the US). A young team, guided by Professor Rajeev Gowda, has done that exercise and I wish to share a few of the results with you.

Pandemic inspired

Indians have fought the coronavirus pandemic. We had several challenges in front of us to combat the pandemic, we have made progress on every front. Throughout this, we have become self-reliant… The world’s biggest vaccination drive is happening in India.

Going by the official death toll (4,33,622), it is the third highest in the world, but the official number has been exposed by many independent studies. The number of deaths is, by consensus among experts, at least 10 times more, and that means India has the highest death toll among all countries. During the second wave, we desperately sought, and accepted, help from over 40 countries for oxygen concentrators, ventilators, testing kits, etc. On vaccines, the government quietly buried the vaccine maitri boast, stopped exports (leaving many small countries high and dry), and begged Russia and the US for vaccines. In the first place, there was no merit in claiming self-reliance in vaccines. Thankfully, the government accepted the Sputnik vaccine, and began negotiations with other global manufacturers for supply of their vaccines. Insufficient supply continues to hamper the vaccination programme. As I write, India has administered one dose to 44,01,02,169 persons and two doses to 12,63,86,264 persons. The goal of fully vaccinating the entire adult population by end-December 2021 (95-100 crore) has been abandoned.

India has given grain to 80 crore plus, the world is discussing this.

There are about 27 crore families in India (on average 5 members per family). If 80 crore persons have received grain at the rate of 5 kg per person, it should be reflected in the offtake of grain from the FCI’s stock. The annual offtake (of rice and wheat) has actually dropped from 66 million tonnes in 2012-13 to 62 million tonnes in 2018-19 and 54 million tonnes in 2019-20. In the pandemic year of 2020-21, it increased to 87 million tonnes. This means that not all intended beneficiaries got free grain. A survey by Azim Premji University found that only 27 per cent of households reported receiving full benefits under the 5 kg scheme (Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana). In the Global Hunger Index, India was placed 94 out of 107 countries.

Like the target for ‘toilets for everyone’ was achieved, we need 100 per cent coverage for all other schemes.

‘Toilets for everyone’ is a hollow claim. Thousands of toilets that were ‘constructed’ do not exist or are used for storage. According to the National Health Survey-5, over one-third of the rural population in five states did not have toilets in their houses. A survey conducted by the National Statistical Organization in 2018 found that 28.7 per cent of people in rural households lacked access to toilets and 32 per cent practised open defecation.

We will have several oxygen plants in the country in the coming years.

In October 2020, eight months after the decision was taken, bids were invited to install PSA oxygen plants in government hospitals. On April 18, 2021, the Ministry of Health tweeted that out of 163 oxygen plants that were proposed (more were added later), only 33 plants had been installed. Scroll, a media organization, found that only five oxygen plants were operational.

We have decided to invest Rs 100 lakh crore for modern infrastructure.

The PM may have thought that none would remember that he had made the same announcement at the same place on August 15, 2019, and on August 15, 2020. He may do it again on August 15, 2022. We must be happy that the infrastructure investment plan is growing, invisibly, at the rate of Rs 100 lakh crore every year!

There is more, but it is a tiresome exercise. I shall stop.

Facts are mundane and boring. Fake is exciting. Checking facts is dangerous, peddling fake is thrilling. You can choose what will make your country great and what will make your day bright.

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