Hyperbolic numbers and deceptive figures:



All of us lack something in our lives like certain skills, knowledge,
discipline, time management, ability to manage our finances. Or it could be
one’s behaviour, which needs improvement for it to be acceptable for others. This
is applicable for students, professionals, public servants, politicians and
businessmen. In corporates, they have something called PIP (performance
improvement plan) and they use theories like six Sigma. In short, Six Sigma is
a theory meant to earn customer loyalty, while avoiding unnecessary wastage. It
is meant to improve the effectiveness of process and employees. It is to meet
expectations through timely delivery and so on. And they work on data to find scope
for improvement. We cannot think of ways to improve, unless we understand that there
is scope for improvement.

We have come across political leaders talking about numbers,
while addressing the public, media and during political rallies. Nowadays, it
is often done through social media websites than ever. In 2014, our prime
minister Narendra Modi said in his swearing in ceremony speech that he will show
a report card, after five years of his rule.



For common man, these numbers are too complicated. Or they
just cannot comprehend. Terms like GDP, unemployment rate, poverty rate, per capita
income are often confusing. Even those who understand these terms will find it
difficult to relate it with the real world. It is because these numbers are
often figures achieved through manipulation.



I am not blaming our prime minister, the present government,
a political party or a leader. It is a common practice across the globe that
the figures should look good and those figures are achieved through
manipulation. It is there in USA, in UK as well as in India. Although, in India
this adjustment to get the desired number is little more than what is there in
developed countries.

A major administrative reform is required in India to make
it more transparent. A true democracy, where voters are better informed. The
figures should be more realistic, easy to understand and people should be able
to relate it to their lives.  

News matters for middle class in India. It influences elections
very much. The government should make attempts to balance the numbers to make it
more realistic, which shows the actual scope for improvement. There should be a
correlation between poverty
rate, the national hunger Index (Starvation rate) and the employment rate. Unless,
the government wishes to say things like; we have 80% employment rate and one
third of them are below poverty line, are prone to hunger and malnutrition.

Since February last year, I been after High Court of Kerala
to file a writ petition against two murder attempts on me, which made me live
with an injured liver. The petition filed as ‘party in person' was not
acceptable for those in filing section of high court of Kerala. They were
trying to save the culprits. They kept rejecting my petition, stating defects.
They gave me a filing number over the phone and said that the petition details will
appear on the court’s website by same-day evening. Three days later, I called
them to inform that my petition details are not there on court's website. And
their answer was that they rejected it due to defects.



So I applied for an income certificate to get free legal
aid. Neither the court accepted my writ-petition, nor I got legal aid from
Kerala Legal services Authority. I couldn’t file a writ petition through Kerala
Legal Services Authority. My request to  law
ministry of Kerala to get free legal aid didn’t help. It will be explained in
detail in the next issue of ‘letters to the government'. But the income certificate
I got, helps me to present this topic better.



I was bedridden with my lacerated liver. I was unemployed
and had no income. They made me fill the application form for income
certificate twice. I visited Village office, after they rejected my first
application to clarify doubts, if they had any about my income. I clearly
mentioned that my income is nil and I am unemployed. They issued me an income
certificate which certifies that I have annual family income of 56000. This
certificate states that it was issued after local enquiry, facts and records produced
and is valid for an year. This certificate is valid even in courts in India.




They issued this certificate, when I stated that I am
unemployed. They didn’t check any records like my bank accounts and statements.
Banks will ask for your payslips or bank statements to know your actual income,
when you apply for a loan. Instead, they issued this certificate in a cryptic
way, where the certificate states that I have annual family income of ₹56000. The
certificate issued is just for me and not for the family. So this certificate
states that I am employed and have income. Or it denies the fact that I am
unemployed and do not have income. I was fine with this certificate, because
the income mentioned in it was good enough for me to get free legal aid. Such
baseless and misleading records are created by different government agencies,
which can be used against an individual. These records can also be used to
favour someone, if necessary. It helps  government and our political leaders to talk about
numbers. These figures are proof
for their achievements. The government agencies should work on improving the
way they create data.

Let’s take
Kerala as an example,  the state which  ranked number one in governance performance as
per public affairs index 2021(PAI2021). A study conducted by ‘Public Affairs
Centre’, a Bangalore based non profit think-tank. The study was based on scores
secured by states on parameters like equity, growth and sustainability. The
study is an annual assessment of the adequacy and quality of governance in
states and implementation of the centrally sponsored schemes like rural
employment guarantee scheme, national health mission, integrated child
development service, Samagra siksha abhiyan and mid-day meal scheme. The PAC
said that the study is purely evidence based assessment using central
government data sources.

Kerala ranked
number one in PAI 2020 as well. Kerala been in the top rank in Niti Aayog’s SDG
India Index 2019-20 and retained it 2020-21. The SDG (Sustainable Development
Goals) evaluates progress of states and union territories on Social, economic
and environmental parameters.

This means, Kerala
is doing far better than other states. But the figures that we see are often an
exaggerated one, because it is based on false data and records created by
various government agencies. For example: Kerala with hundred percent literacy
rate do not have 50% population, who can fill an application on their own for a
service from any government agency. We will see two different pictures, if we
were to compare the poverty rate in Kerala as per data and what we see around. This
article is not meant to defame Kerala or the ruling LDF government. One can
only imagine what the reality is in states, which are worst in surveys like
Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.

Why don’t we
have realistic literary rate for Kerala, which could be just seventy or eighty percent?
Similarly, actual poverty rate could be little more than what is on data. Will
it be a shame for Kerala , if we were to have actual unemployment rate? Kerala
is just an example. Every other state with good or bad ranking are going with
same false and misleading data, which shows exaggerated figures.

The above
picture is of a tweet from Kerala chief minister’s official Twitter handle. As
per the tweet 95% of the issues were settled. The 5% margin is maintained to
convince those who challenge it. In other words, all those who claim that their
issue was not resolved will come under this 5%. This is a game of achieving numbers,
where the people designated to address the grievances sent to CMO-Kerala will
go through the standard procedure. They will forward complaints to the
concerned department like police, revenue, etc. The petition will reach the
local police station or the office of the concerned department in a months
time. Those in local police station or the government office will check, what
the issue is and against whom it is? They would also assess, how serious the
consequences will be, if the issue is not resolved amicably? Then they will see
who is more influential, whether it is offender or the complainant? Accordingly,
they will resolve the issue. This means, a petition to police through
CMO-Kerala can be dismissed even without an FIR, charge sheet or any inquiry. Complainants
contacting CMO again for the same issue, will not be taken seriously and those
emails will be deleted immediately without any action. So a petition through
CMO will be treated like a normal petition given in the local police station,
unless there is some political group to pressurise. Or it should be a sensitive
issue and should be able to grab media attention. Deleting few complaint emails
a day, without any resolution will of course help them to achieve this numbers.
Assigning a complaint to the concerned department to get a document stating
that the issue is resolved without appropriate follow up, makes approaching CMO
meaningless.

GDP cannot
define inclusive economic growth. For example; Thousands of small scale weavers
lost their livelihood due to inadequate support from government and the
finished goods dumped from other countries. Then policy changes made by the
union government helped few big factories (with their machines running all day
and night with few employees) to increased silk production in India. It resulted
in GDP growth. And government talks about GDP growth all the time.

Niti
Aayog  published it’s annual report
2021-22 in February this year. A glossy and colourful document of 198 pages. The
report talks about ‘Aspirational districts programme'(ADP) from page number
22-25. ADP is a programme meant to bridge the uneven growth among the
districts. ADP completed four years in January 2020, with 112 districts in the
programme. The programme focused on five key performance indicators such as
health and nutrition, education, agriculture and water resources, financial inclusion,
skill development and basic infrastructure. This programme was appraised by the
United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). The appraisal was positive, states
the Niti Aayog’s annual report. The appraisal by UNDP was positive, because it was
based on misleading data.

Similarly, the
Niti Aayog’s annual report talks about ‘National Multidimensional Poverty
Index’ (MPI) from page number 164 till 166. They say it is non-monetary
poverty. Niti Aayog claims that the National Multidimensional Poverty Index is globally
comparable. It further states, Niti Aayog developed this in consultation with
12 line ministries and in partnership with state governments and the index
publishing agencies-Oxford poverty and human development initiatives (OPH) and
United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). It is based on deprivation faced
by household in three dimensions, which are health, education and standard of living
across 12 indicators and they are as follows:



(1)   
Nutrition



As per Niti Aayog’s annual report, this indicator has
specific age limit for household members, the nutritional information should be
available and will be considered deprived, if undernourished.



(2)   
Child
and Adolescent mortality



(3)   
Antenatal
care



(4)   
Years
of schooling:



Not even a member of household aged 10 or above has
completed six years of schooling, to consider the household as deprived.



(5)   
School
attendance:



Any school-aged child is not attending school up to the
age of class 8 is considered deprived.



(6)   
Cooking
Fuel:



Only those
household who use cow dung, wood, charcoal, coal or shrubs used to cook are
considered deprived.



(7)   
Sanitation:



The household
with unimproved, or no sanitation facility, or it is improved but shared with other
household is considered deprived.

(8)   
Drinking
water:


The household
with safe drinking water, which is within 30 minutes walk (to and from) is not
considered deprived.

(9)   
Electricity:

Household
without electricity is considered deprived.

(10)Housing:

Houses made
of natural materials, inadequate housing, the roof or wall are made of
rudimentary materials is considered deprived.

(11)Assets:

The household
who owns more than one of the following assets are not deprived. Radio, TV, Telephone,
Motorbike, refrigerator, animal cart, bicycle

(12)Bank Account:

A household
member with Zero balance saving bank account or a post office account is not
considered deprived.

This will
even make us think, is  Niti Aayog a
think-tank meant to make the numbers look good for the government or are they
doing research for development. Surprisingly, there is no element called income
or household income or hunger in determining poverty. In United States people
spend at least around 500 dollars (₹35000) to purchase a television set. In
India, old televisions with bulged screen, which are in working condition are
available for as low as rupees five hundred to one thousand. So the global
comparison of television is not appropriate. The public transportation in rural
India is too bad. Hence, the villagers and those living in tribal hamlets may
own a two wheeler worth four to ten thousand rupees. Niti Aayog’s ‘National
Multidimensional Poverty Index’ will not consider them as poor regardless of
how much they earn a day. A hungry child attending school for assured mid day meal
cannot be a reason to say that the household is not poor. Someone in the household
having had six years of schooling doesn't mean the household is rich. Sanitation,
drinking water and electricity should be considered as basic necessities.

These
indicators may help identify tribal population and nomads, who are deprived. But
that cannot be the way to calculate poverty rate. Many of those who are
deprived as per above 12 indicators may have own house or thatched hut, for
which they do not have to pay rent. In India we have large section of
population living below poverty line, who are daily wage workers. They are not deprived
as per this multidimensional poverty index. They stay in rented house where
they enjoy safe drinking water and the sanitation is not shared. They probably have
had schooling for six years or they have school going kids. For them, a month
without job could make them borrow money to pay house rent and electricity bill.
Not being able to work due to sickness can make their life miserable. And they
are not the lower middle class, who work to pay bike, car and home loan and
investments.

Nutrition
specified in the MPI, Antenatal care, Child and Adolescent mortality is not
even 5% of health care that is available for poor in most of the places in
India. Education specified in the MPI will not help next generation to acquire
any sort of skills to earn a livelihood. Standard of living specified in MPI is
absurd. It is as good as saying that the one who can breathe fresh air is not
deprived. MPI is good, only if it were to be a plan exclusively for nomads and tribals. 

We have
better classification of society through public distribution system (PDS). As
per PDS, those living below poverty line are eligible for various government welfare
schemes. Then why do we have such complicated poverty index? It talks volumes
about the gazetted officers engaged in making false data and reports to help
their political masters.

The Niti
Aayog’s annual report also talks about National Data Analytics Platform (NDAP),
a portal aimed at increasing the access and usability of Government data. A user-friendly
web platform that will provide easy access to public datasets in clean,
machine-readable formats. The platform will enable evidence-based policymaking,
cross-sectoral research, data-driven discourse and innovation. The beta version
of the platform was launched on 15 August 2021.

Apart from
this, NITI Aayog has also developed several indices and dashboards by focusing
on effective management and better outcomes backed by data analysis, says the
annual report.

The following
lines are from the Niti Aayog’s annual report 2021-22. Readers can find them in
page number 37, with it’s heading; Monitoring and Evaluation:

INTRODUCTION:

Evidence-based
policymaking is integral to the overall governance structure of New India. To
achieve this, it is important to be able to track performance, determine
outcomes to understand how well a scheme is performing, help diagnose reasons
for poor performance, and generate recommendations for course corrections. This
requires not only the collection of data but also putting in place proper
frameworks with measurable parameters to strengthen the effective management of
limited public resources and achieve a deeper and broader impact of schemes.

The
Development Monitoring and Evaluation Office (DMEO), an attached unit of NITI,
is driving accountability in governance through proper monitoring and
evaluation, along with the other Verticals
.

If there is
so much to do with data, then a major administrative change is required in the
way the data is collected, processed and used for making reports. The
government should work on an effective mechanism to make sure that the data is
collected accurately and is updated on a regular interval. There is a lot of
investment and man power involved in data collection and processing. But it
just cannot produce the desired result, unless the data is accurate. Accurate
data helps the government and the citizens to know where we stand.

Readers can click
on the link below to read an article published recently in New Indian Express.



Drop in unemployment registration in
Kerala



Readers can
view and download Niti Aayog’s annual report (pdf file) by clicking the link
below. Please take your time to go through it. You will get an idea about what is
going on in our country.



Annual report 2021-22



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