Economic Indicators and Various Reports On It- GDP, FD, EODB, WIR etc

[oped of the day] Politics should not meddle with our official statistics

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : Government statistics - reliability

Context

The National Statistical Office is making headlines over the non-release of the results of the 75th round (2017-2018) of the National Sample Survey (NSS). 

Reasons

    • It is said that the report revealed a decline in average monthly per capita consumer expenditure (MPCE) in real terms compared to 2011-12.
    • The government indicated that it is examining the feasibility of conducting the next survey in 2020-2021 and 2021-22.

Issues with official statistics

    • T.N. Srinivasan and others refer to these as India’s downfall “from being the world leader in surveys” to a country “with a serious data problem”. 
    • S.L. Shetty pointed out that India’s “official statistical collection machinery has been in decline for more than two decades”. 
    • Our governments have repeatedly interfered with various official statistics.

Statistics – India

    • Poverty reduction has been integral to independent India. The NSSs are the primary means to track household consumer expenditure and poverty. 
    • Led by P.C. Mahalanobis initially, several economists and statisticians contributed to the design and development of the NSS. 
    • American statistician Harold Hotelling has remarked, “No technique of random sample has, so far as I can find, been developed in the United States or elsewhere, which can compare in accuracy with that described by professor Mahalanobis.”

History of distortion

    • Beginning with the 1970s, political interference began to corrode trust in government statistics.
    • In 1973, B.S. Minhas resigned from the Planning Commission over differences on the misuse of data to present a rosy picture of the economy.
    • The 55th round (1999-2000) of the NSS stirred a controversy over the lack of inter-temporal comparability of its MPCE estimates.
    • Angus Deaton and Valerie Kozel pointed out that “the political right had an interest in showing low poverty, and the political left in showing high poverty, and this undoubtedly intensified the debate on survey design and led to the unfortunate compromise design that temporarily undermined the poverty monitoring system”.
    • The 66th round of the NSS (2009-10) showed that employment generation fell significantly short of the target of the 11th Five Year Plan. 
    • The government also delayed the fourth round of the National Family Health Survey, which was eventually held after the 2014 polls. 
    • The government delayed the release of the results of the 2017 Periodic Labour Force Survey that contested its employment claims. Two members of the National Statistical Commission resigned in protest. 
    • Unlike the 27th and 66th round when the results were released but superseded by fresh surveys, the Centre decided not to release the results of the 75th round of NSS.

Impact of politicisation

    • Several surveys and committees have seen their reports either delayed or trashed.
    • Revisions have eroded trust in national accounts. 
    • The government also delayed the release of several tables of the 2011 Census, which should have been made public.

Way ahead

    • Statistical institutions should be insulated from political interference.
    • The government’s contention that the NSSs are unable to capture changing patterns of consumption is not entirely untrue.
    • This calls for a way to shield statistical bodies from politics.
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