Op-Ed: The Fine Art of Hoodwinking People

The Narendra Modi government at the Centre has been frequently pilloried and ridiculed for being a ‘jumla sarkar’ – and justifiably so. But surprisingly, the fact that the Naveen Patnaik dispensation in Odisha has been no less a ‘jumla’ government appears to have escaped the attention of commentators in our state.

Forget the charges made by Union minister Dharmendra Pradhan in his letter to Union minister for Panchayati Raj Narendra Singh Tomar today since there is little doubt that it is motivated by political considerations with the coming elections in mind. But surely we cannot accuse the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG), a constitutional authority that has been pointing out in its reports for successive years that the state government has been building houses on paper, of partisan conduct, can we? In its report for the year 2017-18, for example, it has pointed out the gross mismatch between the amount of money spent and the targets achieved by the Panchayati Raj department. The state utilized Rs 923 crores (55%) out of the Rs. 1688 earmarked under the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana, it said. Not bad, you would imagine – till you get to the next line that mentions the actual physical target achieved. Against a target of 3, 96, 102 houses, it built – hold your breath – just 343 during the whole year! If you think it is not very keen on the PMAY and is instead focused on achieving the targets under Biju Pucca Ghara Yojana (BPGY), its own scheme to build dwelling units for the poor, you are mistaken again. It has utilized 57% of the financial target (Rs. 397 crores out of Rs. 700 crores) during 2017-18 but managed to build a paltry 4% of the physical target: 2636 houses against the target of 62, 416. Now you know why the state government has made it a habit to place the CAG report on the table only at the fag end of an Assembly session!

Let us, for argument’s sake, assume that even the CAG is biased against the BJD government since it reports to the Central government and analyse the state government’s own conduct. In a press release issued by the government on January 2 this year, the Chief Minister’s Office (CMO) claimed that it had built 14, 11, 280 houses at the rate of ‘1, 000 houses every day’ since the ambitious scheme was launched in the 2014-15 fiscal. For good measure, it added that its enviable achievement had ‘drawn the attention of the whole nation’ and helped Odisha emerge as a ‘model state’ in providing dwelling units to the poor! Let us now turn our attention to what the government had told the Assembly on this issue. Replying to a question by Debashis Nayak of his own party, the then Panchayati Raj minister Arun Sahoo had said on December 15, 2015 that it had built a total of 3, 02, 333 houses – 2, 44, 795 of them under the Indira Awas Yojana (IAY) and 57, 538 under BPGY. But when Dilip Ray of the BJP asked for an update on the houses constructed one year down the line (on December 6, 2016, to be precise), the same Arun Sahoo replied ‘data in this regard is being collected’!

The Naveen Patnaik government has constantly sought to obfuscate the issue by blurring the line between houses constructed under the state and central schemes. In advertisements released on the occasion of Rath Jatra recently, the government claimed that it had built 17 lakh houses, hoping against hope that no one would take the trouble of scouring the state government website and finding out that only 2.80 of them were built under the three state government housing schemes, including BPGY. No wonder even Dr. Damodar Rout, senior leader of the BJD and former minister, was skeptical about the government’s claim.

That the ruling party has been caught in a cleft stick on the issue was also evident from the way the ruling party reacted to Pradhan’s letter. Instead of answering any of the questions raised by the Union minister in his letter, the party spokesperson advised him to ‘mind his own business’.

There is little doubt that rigorous scrutiny of other ‘ambitious’ state government schemes would unearth similar mismatch between the claims made and the targets actually achieved.

Figure jugglery appears to have been converted into a fine art by parties of all hues. The BJD government has shown that it can match the BJP-led government lie for lie. It is if the two sides are engaged in a fierce battle to prove who can hoodwink the people better.

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same).