This is a discussion on Wrong numbers within the RTI News & Discussion forums, part of the RTI News, Circulars and Decisions category; As reported by Shobhan Saxena in timesofindia.indiatimes.com on 14 August 2011: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/a...ow/9596880.cms Wrong numbers Truth died the moment the first bullet was fired. With a raging war being fought on ...
- 08-14-2011, 08:34 PM #1
As reported by Shobhan Saxena in timesofindia.indiatimes.com on 14 August 2011:
Truth died the moment the first bullet was fired. With a raging war being fought on the eastern front in December 1971, both All India Radio and Radio Pakistan feverishly reported the battles for Chittagong and Dhaka. It was confusing to separate wheat from chaff. While RP "killed" a large number of Indian troops every day, the AIR returned the compliment with a higher figure for Pakistani soldiers.
The number of enemy fighter jets shot down, tanks blown up and territory captured was so similar that it seemed their broadcasters were reading the same bulletin. The joke went that sensible people across the borders arrived at the truth - the number of real casualties - by taking out the average from figures dished out by the rival radios. Just one day before 90,000 Pakistani troops surrendered in Dhaka, Radio Pakistan bragged about its next transmission from the Red Fort in Delhi. In those days, children in India mocked Radio Pakistan as 'Radio Gappistan' for its brazen lies.
All governments lie, some more than others. In India, where democracy often means a game of numbers, the number game is played to lure or confuse people - the electorate. With elections round the corner, the Punjab government has already started manufacturing truth. In a catchy advertisement on FM radio, the government claims that quality education is now being provided free of cost to rural children as the state now has 117 Adarsh Schools - one in each assembly constituency. The fact is only 15 such schools are operational. In another advertisement, the Parkash Singh Badal government claims that there is no load-shedding in Punjab and soon it would have surplus power since "new power plants were coming up all over the state". In reality, though, there is darkness all round. Industrial units in booming suburbs like Mohali and Zirakpur often totter on the brink of closure because of chronic load-shedding. Punjab, incidentally, has one of the highest power tariffs at Rs 5.28 per unit. The proposed power plants, meanwhile, are still at the planning stage.
The Badal regime may be over-exaggerating its achievements with an eye on elections, but it's not the only state government guilty of lying (see, 'Between the lies'). When it comes to fudging facts, even the Centre's record is not quite straight. Recently, officials of the ministry of environment and forests were in a bit of a spot when a research paper by three scientists - two Indians and one Australian - revealed that the claim in India's latest 'Status of Forest Report 2009' of there being a 5% growth in the country's green cover from 1997 to 2007 was pure fantasy. Calling the government's bluff by pointing out that "a large chunk of this forest cover was in the form of exotic tree plantations", the scientists proved a 1.5%-2.7% decline in India's natural forests each year.
"Fudging of figures happens all the time. We are forced by ministers to exaggerate figures which show their achievements and underplay those which reflect their failures. The main game here is election and the number game is part of that; truth be damned," says a secretary-level officer in a Union ministry, who doesn't want to be named for obvious reasons.
Sacrificing truth for political expediency has implications. It not only gives wrong impressions about the country's growth trajectory, it blots out those in need of state support from the picture. Recently, a huge row erupted soon after results of the 66th Round of the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) were declared. In its survey on 'Employment and Unemployment in India', the NSSO found that employment in labour force had fallen from 42% in 2004-05 to 39.2% in 2009-10. Strangely, it said the unemployment rate had also fallen from 2.3% to 2% in the same period. It showed that despite the 8% growth, enough jobs had not been created and the government's economic policy was not inclusive. No wonder Planning Commission deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia lambasted the NSSO numbers, calling its data collection methodology "faulty".
As they say, there is truth and there are statistics. And the dividing line between them is often very fine. While the government won the day on employment figures, it has been caught on the wrong foot on poverty numbers. At a recent hearing on government norms for providing food security to vulnerable sections, the Supreme Court blasted the Planning Commission for its calculation of poverty - a person earning a per capita of Rs 20 in urban areas and Rs 10 in rural areas. "Nobody can consume 2,400 calories with an average income of Rs 20 or Rs 10 anywhere in the country. Why do you press on with this when the data is very simple and any common man with a little common sense can understand our point?" the bench asked the Planning Commission counsel.
The government, though, continues to throw different figures at different platforms. "The ministers are very sharp people. They can take out the finer points from a report and confuse people with twisted facts and figures. That's how you kill a debate on an issue," says Anil Bairwal of Association for Democratic Rights. "We have a situation where a Cabinet minister, Kapil Sibal, publicly says there 'was no loss' in the 2G spectrum case and he is pulled up by the Supreme Court, and then nothing happens."
They may not be habitual liars but there is a pattern in the way government ministers present 'facts' before the people. "The fate of a lot of schemes like the PDS and NREGS depends on the exact number of BPL families. That's why this confusion. Nobody is ready to accept the fact that the UN figure of 70% poor may be right. That will be like admitting total failure. So they are still spinning lies," says a bureaucrat who has worked with anti-poverty schemes. "The government has so much control over information data that they can make any claim with numbers and get away with it."
The good news is that the government's control over information is being challenged and its lies are increasingly getting exposed. RTI activist Subhash Chandra Agarwal has been at the forefront of this campaign. "I have filed more than 2,000 RTI petitions, and I cannot recall how many times blatant lies of the government have been exposed through the petitions. The RTI Act has perhaps been the most effective tool in checking manipulation of facts by the government," says Agarwal, whose most recent RTI plea revealed how Suresh Kalmadi became the chairperson of the Commonwealth Organising Committee. "It showed how both the UPA and NDA supported him."
Deliberate lying or pure fudging of facts, the political class stands together. "They all lie about the money spent during elections. They all lie about donations they get from individuals and companies. There is an entire culture of lying and it's accepted by everyone because it's convenient for everyone," says Bairwal. "The real truth never comes out in public."
James Bond tells his boss M in Golden Eye that "governments change, lies remain the same." He was talking about Russia in the post-Soviet era. He could as well have been thinking about India.