Fact-Checking the “facts” of FactChecker.in – Power Ministry claims

Recently a site called factchecker.in took up a noble initiative: to fact check the claims of the Government. It is always a good thing to verify things said by Governments and Politicians. And although such sites were missing for a long time, its at least a start that they have sprung up now. But when one gets too obsessed with proving someone wrong, facts take a backseat and opinions start masquerading as facts. This is easily visible in the series of posts put up by factchecker.in.

Let us look at their post with the sensational title: “Power Ministry: Series Of False Claims, Marginal Improvements”. Looking at the title one would assume power ministry has got it all wrong. Let us have a closer look.

1. Claim by Power Ministry: 22,566 megawatts (MW) in power-generation capacity added in 14-15, the “highest-ever growth in a single year”

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Here factchecker.in resorts to some clever-by-half methods of twisting data. From the ministry’s claim, it would be clear to anyone that 22566 MW added is the highest annual addition ever i.e. highest ever growth in power-generation capacity. This is brought out by the table put up by factchecker.in as well. Column 2, which shows the annual addition, shows that the highest addition was in 2014-15, thus “highest ever growth” of power generation capacity was in 2014-15.UntitledBut they somehow wanted to prove these claims wrong, hence they added another “parameter”. Hence they added the last column, which talks about “increase/decrease in addition” i.e. “growth of growth”. No analysis usually talks about “growth of growth”. Neither does the Government claim talk about this. Yet, they use this invented parameter of “growth of growth” to counter the basic claim. This inspite of the fact that their own table very clearly says, in column 2, that the highest ever growth was in 2014-15. Shifting of goal-posts, but not very cleverly.

2. Claim by Power Ministry: 1 trillion units of electricity were generated last year; first time in history

Here, the site says “Reality: it required only an additional 33 billion units, or 3.4%, to touch the trillion-unit mark”. So the site admits that the claim that 1 trillion units were generated is true. So what is the “fact-check” here? The Government’s claim is true. The only argument factchecker.in has is to reach 1 trillion units, only 33 billion units were needed. A truly lame fact-check.

3. Claim by Power Ministry: Deficit reduced to 3.6%, “the lowest ever””.

Here, the following table is presented by factchecker.in:factchecker

A cursory glance at this table itself shows that the deficit percentage is in fact the lowest in 2014-15. The second last last column of the table reflects deficit in absolute terms and the last column talks about deficit in percentage terms. In both the columns, the lowest figures for absolute and percentage deficit appear for 2014-15. So does the site itself say that the Government’s claim is true? Nope.

It then says the “Reality” is that the decrease in deficit compared to the earlier year is marginal. Maybe the author lost track of the original claim and let his biases creep in here, because the claim was never for “greatest reduction of deficit” but was for “lowest deficit ever”, which has been proved by the table given by them itself.

4. Claim by Power Ministry: A “significant increase” in wind-energy capacity installed during 2014-15.

The ministry says 2,312 MW wind-energy capacity was installed during 2014-15, compared to 2,083 MW during 2013-14, and terms it a “significant increase”. Note that the ministry is not saying that its the “highest ever” increase, it only says “significant”. Here the “Reality” as per factchecker.in is “ Higher capacities were installed” in earlier years. Shifting goalposts again? Government doesn’t stake claim for “highest increase”, it only asserts that there has been a significant increase. But factchecker.in shifts the argument to “highest ever increase”. Why? We are not sure.

5. Claim by Power Ministry: “Significant increase” in small hydro projects

Similar to the above, the ministry says 251 MW capacity in small hydro projects was installed during 2014-15 compared to 171 MW during 2013-14, and terms this a “significant increase”. Once again, goal-posts are shifted and factchecker.in claims that comparable or higher capacities were installed in earlier years. Again, the ministry has staked claim only to a “significant increase” not “highest ever increase” but factchecker.in doesn’t have time for such small facts. To further prove its point, the site produces the following table:

Untitled

And this table further weakens the stand of factchecker.in. If you observe, you will realize capacity added has steadily fallen from 2011-12 to 2013-14. In fact capacity has fallen by 51% from the peak figure of 352 MW in 2011-12. Thus every year, there has been a “significant decrease”. It is only in 2014-15 that this trend is broken and we see an increase. In fact the increase is a whopping 47% as compared to the 2013-14 figure. Not only is this the first increase in 4 years, it is also a “significant increase”. But factchecker.in fails to notice this.

6. Claim by Power Ministry: Four-year record in coal production

Factchecker.in here says, the ministry has claimed that there has been an increase of 32 million tonnes (MT) in 2014-15 taking the output to 494 MT in 2014-15, compared to 462 MT in 2013-14. This the ministry says is an  “increase higher than increase in previous 4 years”.

Here factchecker.in says: “The production figure of 462 MT during 2013-14 does not match data tabled by the current Coal Minister in Parliament on July 17, 2014. That data puts coal production during 2013-14 at 566 MT and not 462 MT. More significantly, coal production of 494 MT in 2014-15 is less than the coal production during each of the previous five years (2009-10 to 2013-14)

This is the “most egregious fact check” where perhaps out of frustration at not having been able to prove a single fact wrong, wrong facts are being presented. The article confuses the output of Coal India Ltd. (CIL) with the output of Coal Industry and comes out with absurd conclusions. The data tabled by the minister obviously does not tally with the data in the claim, because the data tabled i.e. 566 MT was for”total domestic production” of coal, while the data in the claim i.e. 462 MT is production of Coal India only. This can be easily verified by checking this news article which says Coal India’s production was 462 MT in 2013-14.

Coal India’s production for 2014-15 is indeed 494 MT as evidenced by this report. From such publicly available data, we can tabulate Coal India’s production for 5 years.

YearCoal India Production in MTIncrease
2010-11431.32
2011-12435.844.52
2012-13452.2016.36
2013-14462.4110.21
2014-15494.2331.82

(2010-11, 2011-12, 2012-13, 2013-14, 2014-15)

As you can see from above, the increase for the first 4 years combined is 31.09 MT and the increase in just 1 year from 2013-14 to 2014-15 is 31.82. Thus the ministry’s claim that the 32 MT increase is “higher than increase in previous 4 years” is absolutely correct. Yet factchecker.in arrived at a different conclusion.

Thus all the 6 claims of the ministry which were “debunked” by factchecker.in stand true and the “debunking” done by factchecker.in is found wanting in logic, data and reasoning. The site has done similar exercises on the claims of other ministries too. We will soon analyse the same and see if those rebuttals too are found to be illogical.

Update: This report of factchecker.in was published by Business Standard on 25th July. Today they have published an apology with a rebuttal from the power ministry which is in line with our objections above.

co-founder, OpIndia.com

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