On Tuesday, April 5, 2018, when news reports appeared that the Ministry of Road Transport & Highways was shifting to the lane-length kilometre method to calculate the daily road construction target from the current financial year, a narrative immediately began circulating that the government was simply looking to spice up the statistics to show that it was constructing much lengthier stretches of highways than its predecessors.
Below are screenshots of the headlines of two news reports on the matter:
Next is a series of tweets critical of the government for making the switch and alleging/ implying that its motives are dishonest:
The narrative that has already been sought to be built is obvious from tweets such as the above. Even the Business Standard headline is rather misleading, since it clearly says that the government is making the shift to “show highway construction in better light”, appearing to imply once more that there is perhaps some element of deceit and window-dressing involved here.
But is this narrative true? Or does it sound like a false one?
In fact, the content of the news reports too shows what’s going on. For instance, the Business Standard report begins with the following lines:
What India is switching to is the standard international practice of measuring highway length by lane kilometres, moving away from the hitherto “linear length” model of calculating highway length.
Therefore, not only is there no evident element of spicing up or fabricating data on road construction, as implied by the tweets above, but the switch actually brings India in line with more uniform global standards. There is no evidence or ground to believe that highway construction, so far, under the current administration – i.e. over the last nearly 4 years – will be recalculated retrospectively to change the figures to show the current government in a good light! Highway length constructed in these 4 years has been calculated by the linear length formula, as it had been done under the last administration too.
Thus, the argument in some of the tweets above appears to be false and, in fact, perhaps even ridiculous. This has been pointed out too by some social media users, such as the tweet below:
The difference is similar to using track length or track kilometres to measure railway network lengths as against route kilometres. India has used route length measurement, while track length offers perhaps a more realistic idea of exactly how long a country’s railway network is.
This is the logic that seems to have been used by Union Minister Nitin Gadkari too, as reported, pointing out how using the lane kilometres method would offer us a more realistic picture of highway construction:
Before concluding, let us take a look at how the current government has actually been performing in highway construction – and how its performance compares with that of its predecessor’s.
The following graph from Economic Survey 2017-18 shows how the length of highways has steadily increased over the years:
The table below shows how the pace of National Highway construction has been improving over the years of the current government:
Source: Ministry of Road Transport & Highways
Therefore, even going by the current method of calculating the length of highway constructed, we can see how fast the current government has been building highways. So, does the argument that the government is shifting India to the lane-length method of calculating highway construction — to enable itself to make spurious claims about itself — adhere to an apparently false narrative?