From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : Nothing Much
Mains level : Autonomy of NSC is required to maintain sanctity of data, surveys.
The announcement that the government has decided to merge the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) into and under the Central Statistics Office (CSO) has caused both surprise and concern. ecent attempts to question the veracity of National Sample Survey (NSS) data and the way the issue has been handled have given rise to apprehensions within academia, State governments and the media about the prospect of radical changes in the present system for deciding substantive issues of scope, design, scrutiny and validation of the surveys.
The present system
Under the present system, every year various departments of government send a list of subjects that they would like to be investigated by the NSSO.
Request for investigation are sent to NSC –
The requests are sent to the National Statistical Commission (NSC), which has respected economists, subject matter specialists and statisticians from government, including the head of the CSO and senior officials of the NSSO responsible for technical aspects of design and conduct of field work, as well as representatives of State governments.
The investigation by NSC –
- Subject matter specialists in particular fields are also brought in. The proposals are discussed at length keeping in view the budget allocations, availability of trained field staff and supervisors.
- In doing so, the conduct of periodic surveys on important issues is also considered. (It should be noted that budget allocations, and personnel of the NSSO have always been under the Department of Statistics.)
- After providing for periodic repeat surveys (at quinquennial or decennial intervals) of some important aspects (notably consumer expenditure, employment, social consumption, land holdings, rural savings and investments), the subjects to be covered in a particular year and the scope of the inquiry are decided.
- The tasks of sampling design, the scope and content of information to be collected, design of schedules and protocols of field work are left to be decided by special working groups.
- The tabulated results are discussed in detail by the NSC and are published after its approval.
- The NSSO surveys command wide respect among academics, State governments and non-governmental organisations .
- The existing institutional arrangement in which the NSC, as a professional body independent of government, has not only functioned smoothly but also commands confidence and respect both within the country and abroad must be maintained.
- Any attempt or even a suggestion that its substantive work, publication and free dissemination of data are subject to the department’s approval will hugely dent the credibility of the Indian statistical system.
Scope for improvement
- It is widely recognised that there is scope for improvement in the functioning of the institution and the way data are collected.
- These problems are well known: the NSSO doesn’t have adequate budgetary allocations; there is an acute shortage of trained field staff; the scale of surveys is un-manageably large mainly because the users demand a degree of detail in content and regional disaggregation of estimates.
- But there are also serious difficulties inherent in trying to get reliable and complete information through the interview method.
- The solutions call for action by the institutions responsible for gathering data by investing in continuing research on improving sampling design, field survey methods and validation of data.
- Correcting these deficiencies is entirely in the domain of government.
Increasing the role of CSO officials in running the NSSO will not solve these problems, but they can help by providing funds for specialised research on survey design and methodology. The necessity and importance of such research calls for far greater attention and resources than they receive at present.