The Narendra Modi-led National Democratic Alliance government completed eight years in power in May. Using the hashtag #8YearsOfInfraGati, the incumbent government, BJP leaders and several ministers, including Prime Minister Modi, made a series of claims on social media and in newspaper advertisements related to the growth of urban transport.
In one such newspaper advertisement titled “Nation Resolves to Ensure Benefits of Strong Infrastructure Reach 100% People”, the central government made certain claims about the growth of the Metro rail network, airports and national highways. Although many claims were not made with tangible data or official records for them were unavailable, FactChecker short-listed four claims that could be checked. On verifying the four claims against official data, just one of them was found to be entirely true.
The advertisement claimed that the number of airports in the country increased from 74 to 140 in the last eight years.
Fact: Since the comparison is for the last eight years, FactChecker looked at the number of airports in India in 2014 and we found that India had 20 more operational airports than what the Modi government has claimed. So, this claim is false.
According to the Ministry of Civil Aviation’s Annual Reports, there were already 94 operational and 31 non-operational airports in the country under the Airports Authority of India in 2014. Of the operational 94, 68 were commercial airports and 26 were civil air terminals at defence-controlled airports.
The increase in the total number of airports from 2014 till date, has been 46 and not 66 as claimed in the advertisement. Airports have been operationalised under the Ude Desh ka Aam Nagrik scheme, and the increase is a 49% increase, contrary to the nearly 90% increase claimed by the central government.
It was claimed that 415 new air routes were operationalised under the Ude Desh ka Aam Naagrik or UDAN scheme during the Modi government’s tenure.
Fact: In 2015, the National Democratic Alliance government had put the United Progressive Alliance government’s project to build low-cost airports in non-metro cities on hold, reportedBusiness Standard. The reason cited was “a lack of commercial viability”. A year later, the ministry of aviation launched its own UDAN scheme aimed to stimulate regional air connectivity, operationalise unserved airports, and make air transport more affordable.
The Centre then, to encourage the development of UDAN routes by various airlines, granted subsidies and exclusivity for operating flights on specific routes for three years through a bidding process among airline operators.
According to a Lok Sabha response provided by the Minister of State for Civil Aviation General VK Singh in March, 409 (updated number: 419) of the total 948 routes awarded over a period of seven phases of bidding had become operational. Singh specified that 126 out of 419 operational routes (30%) were able to sustain the three-year exclusive time period.
In fact, when the number of operational airports was 403 in December 2021, the Ministry of Civil Aviation told a Standing Committee that “the total UDAN routes in actual operation has reached up-to 294 as on December 14, 2021”. This means that there existed a gap of 27% or 109 routes between operationalised and actual operational routes in December 2021.
The Ministry also told the panel that “among the 403 routes that have commenced operations so far, nearly 300 routes have been affected due to poor demand on account of Covid-19 pandemic situation”.
According to a report by Investment Information and Credit Rating Agency of India Limited, only 39% of airports had been operationalised under the scheme by May 2021. “The slow progress of UDAN implementation is attributable to delayed upgrade of infrastructure and readiness of airports, due to lack of adequate right of way (including insufficient runway lengths) at some of the Regional Connectivity Scheme airports and delays in securing necessary regulatory approvals,” said Shubham Jain, SVP & Group Head, Corporate Ratings, Investment Information and Credit Rating Agency of India Limited.
The number of routes commenced under different phases of UDAN had seen a dip, according to Airports Authority of India data.
The scheme has been trying to operationalise seaplane routes too. Out of the twosea-plane routes awarded, one was operational briefly between the Sabarmati Riverfront to the Statue of Unity. However, the Selected Airline Operator stopped the operations due to the unavailability of maintenance support for seaplanes in India, according to another Standing Committee Report.
These facts prove that the claim is misleading.
Bharatiya Janata Party leaders claimed that the speed of building national highways increased by 200% – from 12 km per day in 2013 to 37 km per day in 2021.
Fact: Here, the BJP leaders have cherry-picked data and the claim is misleading. Although the pace of expansion of national highways has undoubtedly increased under the current regime, the growth is not as much as claimed here as the data used is not recent.
The claim cherry-picks data from the financial year 2020-’21 when the highway expansion was at its highest – 13,327 km, which is a speed of 37 km/day. Since the claim is to illustrate the length of national highways built by the National Democratic Alliance regime across 8 years, the latest year 2021-’22 should be taken into account. The national highway expansion dropped in 2021-’22 to 10,457 km, which is almost 29 km per day. This shows that there has been a 141% increase in the pace of expansion and not 200% as Union Minister of Road Transport and Highways Nitin Gadkari claimed.
The comparative figure is correct but the year mentioned in the claim is incorrect. In Gadkari’s claim, the year mentioned is 2013, when the pace of national highway construction was 16 km/day and in 2014, it was 12 km/day.
Even the average pace of expansion during the National Democratic Alliance’s eight years to the United Progressive Alliance’s 10 years shows a difference of 143%. In March 2022, the total length of national highways in the country was 1.41 lakh km according to a Lok Sabha response provided by Gadkari. According to the same response, by the end of March 2014, the length of National Highways was 91,287 km. This was two months before the National Democratic Alliance government came to power.
Going by these numbers, the National Democratic Alliance government has facilitated the expansion of the highway network by 49,903 km across their eight years. This comes down to national highways being built at a rate of 17.1 km per day during the tenure of the Modi-led government.
FactChecker looked at the highway length figures for the 10 years of the United Progressive Alliance regime as well. According to data from the Basic Road Statistics published by the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways of India, in 2004, the total national highway length was 65,569 km. It increased to 91,287 by the end of the fiscal year 2013-’14. The speed of national highway construction over this period was 7 km/day.
The BJP’s promotion also claimed that 20 cities have Metro rail now as compared to five in 2014.
Fact: While the number is true, several Metro routes that became operational during the current regime were approved under the United Progressive Alliance regime. The Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs in its 2021-’22 Annual Report specified that 19 cities had operational metro lines and the 20th addition was the opening of the Pune Metro in March 2022.
However, two out of the 15 new metro rail projects built since 2014 were already sanctioned by the central government during the Congress-led regime. Kochi Metro was approved in July 2012 and Chennai in January 2009.
Another four metro projects had already received “in-principle” approval from the Government of India before the National Democratic Alliance came to power, namely Jaipur, Lucknow, Nagpur and Pune. Mumbai Metro and Hyderabad Metro projects were already under implementation, according to the 2013-’14 Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs Annual Report. The claim, therefore, is partially correct.
FactChecker tried calling the Private Secretary to Minister of Road Transport and Highways, Sanket Bhondve and Union Minister Nitin Gadkari for clarification but the calls did not connect. Our call to the Under Secretary in the Ministry of Civil Aviation, Shankra Nand Bharti, went unanswered. We then emailed officials from both the ministries requesting them clarification on their claims but had not received a response by the time of publishing this article. As and when we do, it shall be updated here.
This article first appeared on FactChecker.in, a publication of the data-driven and public-interest journalism non-profit IndiaSpend.