EXCLUSIVE: Swachh Bharat Abhiyan not as clean as Modi govt claims. There’s whiff of scam here

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Last week we reported that how the Centre’s Narendra Modi government had conceded for the first time that it had merely renamed the old UPA schemes and re-launched them amidst huge publicity as new schemes.

Swachh Bharat Abhiyan

In my first part of expose, I was able to establish that the three repackaged schemes by the Modi government were performing worse than how they did under their old avatar during the Manmohan Singh government.

Let’s now look at the fourth scheme that two BJP strategists sought to highlight in their exhaustive piece for The Wire, published on 13 September. This was rather a very interesting topic – a comparison of Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan (during UPA) with Swachh Bharat Abhiyan. Authors Mohit Kumar Daga and Parag Mohanty cites another reply from Lok Sabha to give the numbers of household toilets constructed in the last two years.

According to them the numbers of toilets built during the UPA time were 9,535,436 and they claim to have obtained the numbers from here. The link will take you the official website of Swachh Bharat Abhiyan’s dashboard where you get daily live update just like cricket match scorecard. According to this dashboard, 45,581,550 toilets were constructed till 3 August this year. That number current stands at 4,88, 49,170. Again, they have taken last two years of UPA to compare first three year of Modi government, which is illogical and manipulative.

Let us check the actual numbers to know more. This government data shows that contrary to the claims made by BJP strategists, the exact number of toilets/latrines constructed in the first three years of UPA 2 (2009-10 to 2011-12) was 62,476,819. This clearly shows Modi government’s achievement of 45,581,550 is in fact 16,895,269 less than UPA 2’s achievement. When the authors claim, 9,535,436 toilets constructed in last two years of UPA, it was a deliberate attempt to mislead the readers with a wrong comparison. The comparison below will explain the difference more easily.

It very clearly shows that except 3rd year, UPA government’s numbers were much higher than that of the current regime. It is thus easy to understand that the selective use of data will be very misleading and provide totally different picture which will be far away from the truth.

Also, since we are discussing Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, let us check few more important points pertaining to this particular scheme’s claimed success. SBA Guidelines mandate an yearly independent third party verification of the progress of the scheme because the scheme is funded by the world bank – $1.5 billion  loan for a period of 18 years with a initial  five year moratorium on repayment.

This disbursement letter mentions first tranche of $147.5 million will be disbursed by April 2016. This report of World Bank dated 5 February 2017 says the progress of the work is “moderately unsatisfactory”. If the government is implementing the project at this breakneck speed with precision, why should the World Bank find it moderately unsatisfactory?

There are two interesting things here. 1) World Bank is yet to disburse the two trances due in 2016 and 2017 because of the non submission of independent third party verification report and government of India is paying a commitment fee of 0.5%. The terms & conditions in loan agreement clearly state that the disbursal is based on third party verification report submitted and that will be an yearly affair till 2022. This ET report  from January, 2017 details the complete timeline of this loan, disbursals and the “commitment fee” India is paying.

2) After several articles like this and this appeared on news portals, the government was forced to issue this press release to clarify that an independent third party assessment and verification of the implementation success of the programme was already in place. But, that wouldn’t satisfy the World Bank as the criteria they were asking will not fit in with what government is doing – using government agencies for the survey.

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If Modi government is so certain about the success and transparency, why wouldn’t they do an yearly survey as mandated in the loan agreement?

Curiously, government is spending only 1%, 7% less than the mandated 8% on the Information, Education and Awareness campaign, as pointed out by this CPR study. As per National Family Health Survey 4, only 48.4% of the households in India is using improved sanitation facilities. If  one takes only rural numbers, it further comes down to 36.7%. That means, only 36.7% of the toilets constructed under SBA is used as toilets / latrines. There is another C P R Survey covering 5 states and 7500 families which points out the scope and scale of corruption in the implementation. The screenshots below will explain it in simple detail.

The study, in no uncertain terms, clarifies the kind of corruption already taking place by duplication of data, fictional inhabitation in villages and the number of villages don’t match with local government directories or census data.

The same study discovered only 24% of the households who constructed toilets since 2014 received government grants. The SBA(G) guidelines inform us the amount is Rs 12,000 per household in rural areas. And the same CPR study found out only 24% of the surveyed households, who constructed toilets after April 2014 received any government grants. 29% of the households in the achievement list did not have a toilet!

Is this what the authors, the BJP strategists, meant as “better implementation” by Modi government? If anything, this is an unfolding of a scam at monumental proportions.

Atal Pension Yojana

Fifth point in the article is Swavalambhan scheme which became Atal Pension Yojana. Authors of the article in The Wire quoting from PFRDA Annual Report mentions Swavalambhan scheme had 41.46 lakh subscribers from 2010 to 2015 and while quoting this answer from the Lok Sabha, they state that Atal Pension Yojana has 58 lakh subscribers from 2015 to 2017.

Before going in to further details, we have to understand that it really is a name change. For a name change, this scheme was neither in the name of someone from Nehru-Gandhi family or any political personality, which is the usual reason thrown by the BJP to defend the Modi government’s decision to justify their decision on changing the name of schemes.

Congress advt 2

So, nobody knows what was the necessity of such a name change. This government press release says “the scheme is open to bank account holders in the prescribed age group, the central government would also co-contribute 50% of the total contribution or Rs. 1,000 per annum, whichever is lower, for a period of 5 years for those joining the scheme before 31 December, 2015 and are not members of any statutory social security scheme and are not income tax payers.”

In this context, let us check what Swavalambhan Scheme was.

The most simple explanation is given by the Department of Financial Services here. So, what is the major difference between Swavalambhan Scheme and APY if both were self contributory, meant for anyone who are “not part of a statutory pension / provident scheme”? It says that Modi government decided to launch a “new scheme” because the pension benefit at 60 years of age was not clear in Swavalambhan scheme.

These two press releases on Swavalambhan Scheme and APY will explain both the schemes have same terms and conditions. But, Swavalambhan scheme had an option to exit at the age of 50 or a minimum tenure of 20 years (whichever is later), it provided “with 40% minimum annuitisation of pension wealth. Exit before the age 50 or tenure less than 20 years, is possible with 80% minimum annuitisation of pension wealth.” That means, the claim of lack of clarity is not true because both schemes are under National Pension Scheme and follows the same principles and regulations.

But, there are certain differences. Most important of them is the upper age limit of joining the scheme. In Swavalambhan Scheme it was for anyone up to 50 years or after paying 20 years and for APY joining age has been limited to 40 years. But, the most important difference most people failed to note of is the government contribution part.

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In the former scheme, government was contributing Rs 1000 per year for anyone joining the scheme till 2012-13. For 2013-14 and subsequent joiners till 2016-17, the government contribution was meant for three years.

But Modi government gave the same 5 year Rs 1000 support for joiners who joined till 31 December 2015 in APY and once APY launched all Swavalambhan scheme accounts migrated to APY. Voluntary withdrawal before 60 years of age was not permitted in APY. So the question would arise as to what the APY really achieved except the name change and the reduction in upper age limit of joining and reduction in minimum contribution from Rs 500? Nothing, but a mode to fill the government coffers and another “new scheme inauguration” opportunity for Prime Minister.

Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana

6th point in the article is a hotly discussed topic – Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana (PMJDY). Scores of articles are published both praising and criticising government claims. Citing the RBI Annul Report of 2013-14, authors support the claimed numbers of the predecessor of PMJDY – No Frills Accounts (later BSBDA – Basic Saving Bank Deposit Account) as 24.3 crore from 2005 to 2014. But, there is a small problem with this number. This number is only up to March 31, 2014; not till the date PMJDY started. And the authors quoted from PMJDY website the figure of nearly 30 crore accounts since the inception of the scheme.

Here too, just like in Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, let us not question the claim of number of accounts because we have to trust the data once it is out from the RBI. But there are certain things which we have to seek the answer for. Just like in BSBDA, PMJDY accounts have the same zero balance facility, a debit card and a cheque book facility, certain number of free ATM withdrawals and net banking and phone banking facilities etc.

First of all, PMJDY account is not a new concept introduced by this government. That credit goes to UPA 1 and that started from here. In 2012, the scope of the policy has been widened through this RBI notification when the earlier name changed to BSBDA.

When a lot of discussions happened on Jan Dhan Accounts, no body seriously discussed how PMJDY is different from BSBDA? Answer lies in this and in this. These are FAQ explanations for both BSBDA & PMJDY and the reader can find out the differences if there is any.

Many experts tried their best to do so, without any success. To put it in a more simple way, Jan Dhan Accounts comes under BSBDA as a sub-sect in every RBI document shows it is a BSBDA. And FAQ explanations in PMJDY portal itself says PMJDY accounts are certainly BSBDA. Many BJP supporters and office bearers like the authors of the article argued that PMJDY offers a free insurance scheme for PMJDY account holders. What they never reveal in open is, that proposal is there on paper since PM announced the scheme and it continues to remain on paper.

If that is the case, why Jan Dhan Accounts? We have to assume, Mr. Modi did not have any other option to publicise himself with his photographs across the country for a financial product because he couldn’t have changed the terminology of BSBDA, which was under RBI domain. Answer is as simple as that. After PMJDY and the zero balance small savings bank accounts, “Pradhan Mantri” ventured into small loans and PMMY started. Next was insurance with PMJJBY, PMSBY and PMVVY. Thus, with savings, loan and insurance, finance portfolio is complete!!

Also Read:  Modi government's own data exposes BJP's lies on PMGSY claims

We are yet to find out the total amount of money spent on advertising the PMJDY since its inception. There is a very important aspect to most of the so-called “New Schemes” launched by Modi government – One in every five schemes is a “Pradhan Mantri” scheme or One in every five schemes is a self marketing opportunity for the Prime Minister. You can check the entire list of schemes here.

Let us come back to the topic of PMJDY. There are certain points the ruling party supporters highlight when they speak about the scheme and one of them is the reach of banking facilities to every corner of the country after the current government came to power. And they often attribute that to the “roaring success” of the scheme.

Let us check that too as these two are inter-connected. This is quoted from the RBI publication: “In order to provide door step banking facilities in all the unbanked villages in the country, a phase wise approach has been adopted. During Phase-I (2010-13), all unbanked villages with population more than 2,000 were identified and allotted to various banks (public sector banks, private sector banks and regional rural banks) through State Level Bankers’ Committees (SLBCs) for coverage through various modes – Branch or BC or other modes such as ATMs, mobile vans, etc.

“During Phase-I, as reported by SLBCs, banking outlets have been opened in 74,414 unbanked villages with population more than 2,000. Such newly opened banking outlets comprised of 69,589 outlets opened through BCs and 2,332 by other modes, apart from 2,493 branches”.

It continues,  “After the completion of the first phase of the roadmap, the second phase (2013-16) to provide banking services in unbanked villages with populations less than 2000 was rolled out. About 4,90,298 unbanked villages with population less than 2000 have been identified and allotted to various banks (public sector banks, private sector banks and regional rural banks) through SLBCs across the country for coverage in a time bound manner.”

So, it is clear that this expansion of banking facilities to every village in the country was an ongoing programme since long and is not a new initiative by this government. But the latest RBI data shows a negative growth in the number of rural branches of scheduled commercial banks. Even if we take the rationalisation of branches (which is yet to come in to effect) in to consideration, a 3.47% negative growth (YoY) is yet to be explained. Similarly, the growth in urban branches of Scheduled Commercial Banks dropped to the lowest in more than 12 years to 0.73%.

In the case of exact numbers, we don’t have any avenue in public domain which mentions exact number of zero balance accounts, total number of dormant accounts, total number of BSBDA small accounts and how many corporate accounts (salary accounts) are opened under PMJDY.

We also don’t know how many accounts have been closed down and how many of them are upgraded from zero balance to minimum balance required accounts in last three years and why BSBDA growth became stagnant and only PMJDY accounts are growing. There’s also ambiguity on whether banks are asked to open only PMJDY accounts and given specific targets or if reports of banks being asked to deposit Rs 1 to Rs 10 in PMJDY accounts to reduce the number of zero balance accounts are true or not.

Without proper answer to these questions, claiming the success of the scheme just based on the number of accounts opened will be very inappropriate and premature just like the number of toilets constructed under Swachh Bharat Abhiyan and total usage is less than 47.5% because of the inadequacy of water and the smaller size of pits.

To be continued…

(The author of this article is a well-known data analyst. He can be reached on Twitter via @t_d_h_nair )

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