Poverty Eradication – Definition, Debates, etc.

Issues with our national surveys


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: India's major surveys and its findings

Mains level: Issues in India's major surveys, faulty sampling and its consequences for policy making

Central Idea

  • In India, the accuracy and reliability of data related to poverty, growth, employment, and unemployment are crucial for effective policy formulation. To ensure the well-being of its vast population, it is essential that surveys generating these estimates are conducted regularly, adhering to predetermined schedules, and maintain the highest standards of quality.

*Relevance of the topic*

There is significant gap in the data quality of India’s major surveys such as NSS, NFHS, and PLFS

For Instance, Major surveys conducted post-2011, which utilized the Census 2011 as the sampling frame, have consistently overestimated the proportion of the rural population.

There is need for a comprehensive sampling overhaul to accurately reflect India’s real economy.

The Significance of Sample Surveys

  • Data for Policy Formulation: Sample surveys, such as the NSS, NFHS, and PLFS, are vital sources of data that policymakers rely on to evaluate the effectiveness of past policies and design new ones.
  • Identifying Socio-Economic Indicators: Sample surveys provide estimates related to household consumption expenditure, health outcomes, education, employment status, asset ownership, poverty levels, and more. These indicators help policymakers identify areas that require attention and allocate resources accordingly.
  • Representative Data: Sample surveys through carefully selected samples, they aim to capture the diversity and heterogeneity of different regions, communities, and socio-economic groups.
  • Monitoring Progress and Development: By conducting surveys at regular intervals, sample surveys facilitate the monitoring of progress and development over time. It helps to identify areas where progress is lagging or where interventions are needed.
  • Evidence-based Decision-making: Sample surveys provide policymakers with empirical evidence that supports evidence-based decision-making. Instead of relying solely on anecdotal evidence or assumptions, policymakers can access reliable data to understand the impact of policies and make informed choices that are backed by robust statistical analysis.
  • Transparency and Accountability: Sample surveys promote transparency and accountability in policy-making. The availability of detailed survey methodologies and data allows for scrutiny and peer review, ensuring that the processes and findings are subject to rigorous analysis.

Issues in India’s major surveys

  • Outdated Sampling Frames: The surveys utilize outdated sampling frames, which means they do not accurately reflect the current population distribution in India. As a result, the surveys may underestimate the proportion of the urban population and overestimate the rural population, leading to biased estimates.
  • Inadequate Representation: The surveys’ sampling mechanisms are not adapted to rapid changes in India’s population and economy.
  • Data Quality: While there is a general consensus on the robustness and representativeness of the survey methodology, there is a lack of attention and scrutiny regarding the data quality of these surveys.
  • Non-Sampling Errors: The response rate in these surveys is not consistent across different wealth levels. This issue can introduce biases in the survey estimates, particularly with regards to the representation of wealthier households.
  • Underestimation of India’s Progress: In a dynamic economy like India, where there have been significant policy reforms and rapid urbanization, relying on outdated surveys can impede effective policy-making by creating a gap between ground realities and survey estimates.

Consequences of faulty sampling

  • Biased Estimates: Faulty sampling can introduce biases into survey estimates, leading to inaccurate representations of the target population. Biases can result in misleading findings and hinder effective policy decision-making.
  • Underrepresentation and Exclusion: Faulty sampling may lead to underrepresentation or exclusion of specific population groups. This can result in neglecting their needs and perspectives, leading to inadequate policy interventions for those marginalized or underrepresented groups.
  • Lack of Generalizability: Inaccurate or non-representative sampling hampers the generalizability of survey results. When the sample does not accurately reflect the population, it becomes challenging to make valid inferences about the broader population based on the survey findings.
  • Compromised Data Quality: Faulty sampling undermines the overall quality of the collected data. Sampling errors introduce uncertainty and reduce the precision of estimates, impacting the reliability and trustworthiness of the data.
  • Misguided Resource Allocation: Biased estimates resulting from faulty sampling can lead to misallocation of resources. If policy decisions are based on inaccurate information, resources may be allocated inefficiently, missing opportunities to address the actual needs of the population.
  • Erosion of Confidence: Faulty sampling erodes confidence in the survey process and the credibility of the data collected. Stakeholders may question the reliability and integrity of the surveys, leading to decreased trust and potentially hindering the utilization of the data for decision-making.

Way forward: Need for Reforms in Major surveys

  • Updating Sampling Frames: There is a need for a major sampling overhaul to address outdated sampling frames. Reforms should focus on ensuring that the sampling frames used in surveys like the NSS, NFHS, and PLFS accurately reflect the current population distribution in India.
  • Improved Survey Mechanisms: There is a necessity of adapting survey mechanisms to rapid changes in the population and economy. Reforms should be aimed at modernizing and streamlining the survey methodologies to better capture the true status of India’s real economy.
  • Addressing Data Quality Concerns: There is a lack of attention and scrutiny regarding the data quality of the major surveys. Reforms should prioritize enhancing data quality assurance measures throughout the survey process, including data collection, processing, and analysis.
  • Mitigating Non-Sampling Errors: Non-sampling errors, particularly related to low response rates correlated with wealth levels, need to be addressed. Reforms should focus on understanding and correcting for these errors to ensure more accurate and representative survey estimates.
  • Accurate Population Projections: Given the rapid pace of change, reforms should aim to improve population projections to align with ground realities. This would involve refining projections based on past trends and incorporating the current pace of urbanization and other demographic shifts.


  • To ensure effective policy-making and accurate assessments of India’s socioeconomic landscape, it is imperative to address the existing data quality gap. By prioritizing data quality alongside data availability and size, India can better inform policies and bridge the gap between statistical estimates and ground realities, facilitating holistic and inclusive development.

Also read:

Poverty Estimates: Issues With PLFS Data

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