After I put up the blog post in which I compared Prof. Panagariya’s impressive presentation of statistics on the present NDA government’s infrastructure achievements, my friend Harikiran Vadlamani pointed to this blog post that appeared to drill a neat hole into Prof. Panagariya’s statistics and into his credibility. Unfortunately, that exercise too does not seem very objective.
(1) On roads (and it is more than highways), the statistics presented in the Annual Report of the Ministry of Road Transport and Highway for 2015-16 tells its own story. On contracts awarded, this government has done far better than the previous government did in its last two years. There is no need to make assumptions on working day for awarding of contracts.
(2) However, on roads constructed, the UPA government’s performance in the last two years, if any, was marginally better than that of the NDA government. I have assumed 250 working days in all years. Please see the link below to the charts presented in the annual report of the Ministry.
(3) What Prof. Panagariya was talking about was roads and not just highways. In any case, neither his number nor that of the blogger who challenged him match the numbers presented in the Annual Report of the Ministry for 2015-16
(4) It is one thing to find factual errors with statistics. That is a serious issue. It is another thing to question what the author chooses to present. That is his prerogative. That is what Prof. Panagariya did with the statistics on railway tracks commissioned. Finding fault with him on that one is a bit of ‘splitting hairs’ stuff.
(5) Even worse is the accusation that he was cherrypicking on rural electrification. He simply said that the pace had picked up compared to the last two years of the UPA government. That is an incontrovertible fact based on the graphic that the blogger himself had presented. What is wrong with what Prof. Panagariya wrote?
(6) Lastly and this is most important, if Prof. Panagariya or Mr. Gadkari or Mr. Goyal are prone to exaggeration, what is the guarantee that the statistics presented for the UPA years were accurate and reliable and were not prone to exaggeration? Were they subjected to the level of scrutiny that these gentlemen and their presentations are subjected to?
(7) Last but not the least, the infrastructure sector has been affected by the massive amounts of debt that companies accumulated on the false premise that India was on to a permanently higher growth path. Little did they realise that the UPA government since 2009 had pumped up growth in an unsustainable manner and that they were all living in an echo chamber. Hence, even if the construction were not picking up now because of corporate debt overhang, it would be entirely due to the deeds of omission and commission during UPA years by UPA and corporates.
This is not a defence of someone presenting deliberately false statistic. Indeed, the blogger offered no proof that Prof. Panagariya was deliberately lying. Yet, points no. (6) and (7) are needed to put the issues in perspective and in the right context.