Friday, March 14, 2014

Cut Out of Whole Cloth -- The Tales of Modi - Part 2

In continuation of the series started in the previous post, let's examine what is the truth behind the claim that Vajpayee built the Golden Quadrilateral, and what is the overall performance of the glorified NDA regime versus the much maligned UPA regime in the infrastructure sector.

Hot Air Balloon Number 2:

Vajpayee is the chief architect of infrastructure in India because he built the Golden Quadrilateral, while UPA delivered only scams

What is the Golden Quadrilateral?

I guess the answer would be known to most Indians (at least to those who read blogs!). It's an ambitious national highway network connecting the four prominent metros in India - Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata. At 5846 km, it's the fifth longest highway in the world. As discussed in my previous post, national highways constitute less than 2% of India's total road network, but carry over 40% of the traffic. (Don't let that fool you into thinking that you're gonna spend 40% of your own commute time on some national highway! That doesn't happen. National highways mostly carry long-distance traffic, which actually moves, unbeknownst to most, at night. These are the long-route inter-city and inter-state passenger buses, and more importantly, goods and freight traffic on trucks.)

It's not that the Golden Quadrilateral is all new roads -- only a small part is. The major part is repair, widening and re-laying of existing roads, some of which have existed for decades and some even for centuries. For example, the GQ now subsumes the Indian part of the erstwhile Grand Trunk (GT) Road, which is a 2500+ km highway spanning multiple nations -- from Chittagong in Bangladesh, through Kolkata and Delhi in India, Lahore and Peshawar in Pakistan, all the way up to Kabul in Afghanistan. The Grand Trunk road had always been a hotbed of economic activity for the entire subcontinent.

The Grand Trunk Road was first built by Sher Shah Suri, an Afghan ruler who ruled over northern India in the 16th century. At that time, it used to be called as the Shah Rah-e-Azam. Later on, the Mughals stretched it to Kabul. When the British came, they refurbished the highway extensively and named it the Grand Trunk Road. The entire 1485 km Kolkata-Kanpur stretch of the Grand Trunk Road is known as NH2, and is now one arm of the quadrilateral christened Golden by Vajpayee! In fact, even Sher Shah Suri was not the first builder -- the highway could be traced all the way back to the Maurya Dynasty which existed more than a millennium earlier. (Interesting aside: Sher Shah Suri does, however, get credited for being the first to introduce the modern Indian currency -- the rupiya, from the Sanskrit word for 'silver coin'  -- which is also the currency of several other adjacent countries!)

Similar to the NH2 (Kolkata-Delhi), the other arms of the quadrilateral too came from existing national highways -- NH8 (Delhi-Mumbai), NH4 (Mumbai-Chennai) and NH5 (Chennai-Kolkata). The GQ project, launched in 1999, was essentially an exercise in 4-6 laning of the existing highways, not so much an exercise in building new roads. It was part of the National Highways Development Programme (NHDP), funded by a consortium including the World Bank, Asian Development Bank, and the Japanese Bank of International Cooperation, apart from some outlays by the Government of India through petrol/diesel cess, and the shortfall being made good by commercial borrowings. NHDP Phase 1 also included renovation and widening of the other major highway network called the North-South-East-West (NSEW) Corridor -- a 7300+ km stretch going from Srinagar in Kashmir to Kanyakumari in Tamilnadu, and from Porbandar in Gujarat to Silchar in Assam. As regards NS-EW, however, NHDP Phase 1 included work on about 671 km only, about 1/10 of the entire stretch. 

NH2-NH8-NH4-NH5 to be rebranded the Golden Quadrilateral

(click image to enlarge)

NHDP Phase 1 was launched in Dec 2000 and was scheduled for completion by June 2004 at a cost of Rs 30,300 crore. That's 3.5 years for upgrading a total of 6359 km. Rate -- 6359/3.5 = 1817 km per year = 4.98 kms per day. Cost - 30,300/6359 = 4.76 crore per km.

NHDP Phase-1:  6359 kms to be completed by June 2004
Source: CAG Report of 2005 (page 6)

(click image to enlarge)

Anyway, having invented a catchy phrase like the 'Golden Quadrilateral' (good for brand recall!), the BJP believes it's their showpiece, calling it a Vajpayee brainchild, and likes to trumpet it on every platform. That's fair. If you have achievements, you have every right to publicize them. Provided they are real. But what type of claims do we see getting tom-tom'ed in the media...?

Let's sample a few. Here is BJP national spokesperson Prakash Javadekar claiming:
One of the biggest failures of the UPA government was the inablility to complete the remaining 10 per cent work on the Golden Quadrilateral Express Highway in its four years in office.

Quite clearly, you are being encouraged here by Mr Javadekar to assume that the NDA completed 90% of the Golden Quadrilateral, and just the remaining 10% change too couldn't be finished by the UPA!

Here is BJP General Secretary and Deputy Leader in the Rajya Sabha, Mr Ravi Shankar Prasad, claiming:
Party spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad pointed out — based on official statistics — that by March 2004, a few months before the last general election, 2,612 km out of the total of 5,846 km was completed and work was going on in the remaining stretch.

Here is an editorial(no less!) from The Pioneer, edited by BJP spokesperson Chandan Mitra, and presumably also penned by him:
The UPA Government, which inherited a mammoth infrastructure development programme from the previous NDA regime, has lost the advantage by going slow, instead of pressing ahead. The Golden Quadrilateral is a case in point. The NDA Government had completed three-fourths of the Golden Quadrilateral — the 5,300 km-long, four-lane highway network envisaged by former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to connect New Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata — within its term, but the remaining one-fourth remains incomplete after more than six years of UPA rule.

So, the Vajpayee government built 75%, nay even 90%, of the Golden Quadrilateral, Mr Chandan Mitra and Mr Prakash Javadekar...? Really...? Then how come Mr Ravi Shankar Prasad, who was actually part of the Vajpayee government, claims only 2612 km, which is 2612/5846 = 44.7%...? 

Shall we see now what the truth is...?

As per the official status update provided to the Rajya Sabha on 15-Jul-2004 by the then Minister of State for Roads and Highways, only 1845 km had been four-laned by Mar 2004. That's just 1845/5846 = 31.6%. This is when Vajpayee called elections, and two months before the next government took over.

Length of Golden Quadrilateral Four-Laned when Vajpayee quit

(click image to enlarge)

Well, going by its capacity to capture the public imagination, and for being the touchstone of authenticity, what is more credible today than a CAG report...? Let's see what the official audit by the Comptroller and Auditor General found about the Vajpayee government's performance on the Golden Quadrilateral:

As per CAG, only 1846 of 6359 km of NHDP-Ph-1 completed by June-2004

(click image to enlarge)

Here is a graphic from the OFFICIAL CAG Report illustrating Vajpayee's performance on NHDP-Phase1 (which was essentially the Golden Quadrilateral, constituting about 92% of the total). According to it, by Jun-2004 Vajpayee had completed just 1846 km (29%) of the planned length of 6359 km, and that goes up to 2583 km (41%) only if one counts even partially completed stretches. Therefore, by quoting 2612 km, Mr Ravi Shankar Prasad was glibly reporting 766 km of partial construction too, and that too by overstatement, because the actual completion even counting partial stretches was 2583 km by Jun-2004, not 2612 km by Mar-2004!

CAG Report: NDA completed just 29% of the NHDP1
 (Golden Quadrilateral was 92% of the entire NHDP1)
Source: CAG Report on NHAI (page 11)

(click image to enlarge)

And here is report card on the annual progress made by Vajpayee on NHDP-Phase 1 (read Golden Quadrilateral). It shows that 

CAG Report: Year-wise progress on NHDP-Phase1 
from Dec-2000 to June-2004
Source: CAG Report on NHAI (page 42)

(click image to enlarge)

And here is what the CAG said in its conclusive remarks on the NHDP-Phase 1.

CAG Report on NHDP Conclusive Remarks
Source: CAG Report on NHAI (page 38)

(click image to enlarge)

Let me interpret that for you. Vajpayee launched the National Highways Development Project in 1998, immediately after coming to power. At the end of Jun-2004, the CAG report clearly shows that Vajpayee had built 1846 km of national highways -- just 29% of the planned length of 6359 kms. In fact, from 1998 to Dec 2000, just 948 km had been awarded as contracts -- no actual construction had even started. Vajpayee's run rate in terms of his most trumpeted project -- the Golden Quadrilateral --  was:

  1. (505-274)/365 = 0.74 kms/day in the 1st year (Mar2001-Mar2002)
  2. (897-505)/365 = 1.07 kms/day in the 2nd year (Mar2002-Mar2003)
  3. (1684-897)/365 = 2.16 kms/day in the third year (Mar2003-Mar2004)
  4. (1846-1684)/90 = 1.8 kms/day in the last quarter of his rule (Mar2004-Jun2004)

And, hold on, did you happen to note what The Hindu quoted the CAG as reporting...?

CAG: Potential losses due to underperformance of NHDP - 4902 crores

(click image to enlarge)

That's a total of (4300+560+42) = 4902 crores in potential losses because "deficient planning and inefficient contract management by the design and project consultants led to underperformance in achieving the target." Inflation (CPI) during the last 10 years being at about 8% per year, 4902 crores in 2004 amounts to 4902*(1.08)^10 = 10583 crores in 2014. Do you realize what stares you in the face...? In today's parlance (and by current prices), it's a 10583 crore SCAM!! The Vajpayee government caused a potential loss of Rs 10500 crore through underperformance in the Golden Quadrilateral. This is as per the CAG report! 

How come no media went to town with this SCAM...? Where is Arnab Goswami...? Where is Sushma Swaraj...? Where is Arvind Kejriwal...? A 10500 crore SCAM by the Vajpayee-led NDA on the Golden Quadrilateral, and no SCAM-mongering on television...?  A 10500 crore SCAM by the Vajpayee-led NDA on the Golden Quadrilateral, and no Parliament sessions washed away...?  A 10500 crore SCAM by the Vajpayee-led NDA on the Golden Quadrilateral, and no JPC...? How come...??? The nation wants to know. Tonight!

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