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Govt’s 9-airports-a-year claim: Narendra Modi makes a ‘safe landing’ after Twitter turbulence

Narendra Modi’s claims of rapid development since the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) came to power are often put under the litmus test. One of Modi’s recent claims that the NDA government had built nine airports on an average every year, totaling 35 in the last four years, triggered a fierce debate on Twitter with some users questioning the authenticity of his claim.

“Today, 100 airports are operational in India with 35 added in the last four years. From Independence till 2014 [67 years], only 65 airports were built—-meaning one airport was built in one year on an average. Whereas, the average number of airports built in the last four years was nine,” Modi proudly said at the inauguration of Sikkim's first airport at Pakyong on Monday.

Representation image

Representation image

Fact-finding websites put out figures to show Modi’s claims were grossly exaggerated. Firstpost also published one such report by Factchecker.in that put the figure of airports made “operational” by the Modi government at seven in all four years (as against the claim of nine every year).

The fact-finders used two annual reports — of 2013-14 and 2017-18 — of the Civil Aviation ministry to debunk Modi's claim. Section 6 of annual report 2017-18 owned and maintains 129 airports— 23 international, 78 domestic, 8 customs and 20 civil enclaves at defence airfields. Adding up the international and domestic figures, they arrived at 101 as the total airports for civilian passenger use (one more than Modi’s claim).

The annual report 2013-14 showed that out of 125 airports then owned and maintained by the AAI, 94 airports were operational. Simple math showed that the number of operational airports had grown by just seven (101 minus 94) in four years, nowhere near the 35 figure that Modi announced.

But the comparison was uneven. While arriving at the number of total operational airports in 2017-18 as 101 (as shown above), the fact-checkers excluded the civil enclaves (28). But when calculating the operational airports in 2013-14 as 94, they included the 26 civil enclaves. Civil enclaves should either have been included in both years or excluded in both but since they were included in one and excluded in the other, the math went awry.

In fact, the 2013-14 report specifically mentions that excluding the 26 civil enclaves, only 68 airports were operational. Here’s Section 6 (iii) of the report verbatim: "AAI owns and maintains 125 airports comprising 68 operational airports, 26 Civil Enclaves, i.e. Civil Air Terminals at Defence controlled airports where AAI handles civil flight operations and 31 non-operational airports.”

If we exclude civil enclaves from both years, then the numbers look like this: 68 operational airports in 2013-14 and 101 in 2017-18. That puts the number of airports made operational in the last four years at 33. This shows a shortfall of just two when seen against Modi's claim (35), but nowhere near the 28 as shown by the fact-checkers. But Modi’s figure of 35 holds if we do a different math: There were 125 airports in 2014 and 129 in 2018, that is the number went up by four. There were 31 non-operational airports in 2014. The annual report for 2018 does not report any non-operational airports. If from that we infer that all 31 non-operational airports have been operationalised, then the total adds up to 35 (4 plus 31). Was this the figure the prime minister mentioned? Hard to say because the annual reports don’t give us clarity on this score.

After the controversy erupted, the Ministry of Civil Aviation tweeted on Tuesday: “In the last four years, the number of airports connected with scheduled flights (and thus benefitting general public) has gone up from 67 to 100 airports. Evidently, not all these airports were benefitting the general public. Out of these, only 67 airports were connected by regular flights of scheduled airlines.”

(There is a slight discrepancy here; the annual report of 2013-14 says there were 68 operational airports and the 2017-18 report shows 101 airports operational, but the ministry's tweet shows 67 and 100. But it is not of much consequence because the overall number of airports operationalised, 33, remains unaffected).

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There is another strong reason to suggest that the prime minister was not making an off-the-cuff claim. Just before the inauguration of the Pakyong airport, the ministry brought out a coffee table book showcasing all the 100 operational airports of the country. The ministry tweeted PDFs of the book as well to buttress their claim. The book lists all the 100 airports and gives the reader a quick introduction of each airport with pictures and a fleeting history of the same.

It would have helped if the book had tagged the 35 (or is it 33?) airports that were operationalised during the NDA's tenure, but it doesn't. That said, however, Modi seems to have put one past his detractors.


Updated Date: Sep 28, 2018 14:52 PM

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