In­dia Moves Changes to its Sta­tis­ti­cal Sys­tem

Business Sphere - - STATISTICAL SYSTEM - By Our Correspondent

The Union gov­ern­ment has re­leased the draft Na­tional Pol­icy on Of­fi­cial Sta­tis­tics. In the sec­ond part of its two-part se­ries on of­fi­cial sta­tis­tics, In­dia Le­gal looks at the changes the pol­icy draft pro­poses to the sta­tis­ti­cal sys­tem. The first part of the se­ries fo­cussed on em­ploy­ment sta­tis­tics, and can be found here. A new so­cial me­dia war broke out between the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress party af­ter Naren­dra Modi’s gov­ern­ment re­leased gross do­mes­tic prod­uct (GDP) es­ti­mates for the last quar­ter of 2017-18. The BJP tweeted a graph show­ing a steady growth in GDP since the be­gin­ning of 2017. “Af­ter dark days of UPA, In­dia story is rock­ing again,” said its tweet, which was pre­dictably re-tweeted and repli­cated by party lead­ers and sup­port­ers. The Congress hit back at the Modi gov­ern­ment’s “GDP jumla”, say­ing that the BJP it­self had presided over the de­cline in GDP growth rate since 2015 and had given an in­com­plete pic­ture by choos­ing 2017 as start­ing point for the graph. It was one of the bet­ter days for sta­tis­tics re­leased by the gov­ern­ment. Ques­tions were not raised on the truth­ful­ness of the data, or the pro­fes­sional in­de­pen­dence of those col­lect­ing and pro­cess­ing it. Econ­o­mists did not point out con­tra­dic­tory pat­terns in the num­bers. Over the past four years, gov­ern­ment sta­tis­tics have not been this for­tu­nate. With about 90 per cent of In­dia’s econ­omy func­tion­ing in the un­or­gan­ised sec­tor, col­lect­ing sta­tis­tics has al­ways been dif­fi­cult. But, from GDP es­ti­mates re­leased af­ter Modi’s de­mon­eti­sa­tion in Novem­ber 2016 to of­fi­cial claims of seven mil­lion jobs cre­ated in 2017, gov­ern­ment data — the sound­ness of its com­pu­ta­tion and the tim­ing of its re­lease — has re­peat­edly come un­der in­tense scru­tiny. So the draft Na­tional Pol­icy on Of­fi­cial Sta­tis­tics, re­leased on May 17 by the Union min­istry of sta­tis­tics and pro­gramme im­ple­men­ta­tion, has come at a crit­i­cal junc­ture. The gov­ern­ment has said the pol­icy will in­cor­po­rate United Na­tions Fun­da­men­tal Prin­ci­ples of Of­fi­cial Sta­tis­tics into the coun­try’s sta­tis­ti­cal sys­tem, giv­ing it “pro­fes­sional in­de­pen­dence” and mak­ing of­fi­cial sta­tis­tics “free from any un­due pres­sures or in­flu­ences”. Among other changes, the pol­icy will give fi­nan­cial au­ton­omy to the Na­tional Sta­tis­ti­cal Com­mis­sion (NSC) and clas­sify cer­tain data sets as “core sta­tis­tics”. Na­tional Sta­tis­ti­cal Com­mis­sion The NSC is the premier ad­viser to the In­dian gov­ern­ment on of­fi­cial sta­tis­tics. While the pri­mary sta­tis­ti­cal bod­ies—Cen­tral Sta­tis­tics Of­fice (CSO) and Na­tional Sam­ple Sur­vey Of­fice (NSSO) —are un­der the Union sta­tis­tics min­istry, the NSC has re­mained out of the gov­ern­ment’s di­rect con­trol. But, the com­mis­sion works part­time, and till last year had met only 97 times—on av­er­age less than 10 meet­ings every year since it was set up in 2005. “The com­mis­sion is hand­i­capped in terms of re­sources,” NSC mem­ber Dr Manoj Ku­mar Panda told In­dia Le­gal, adding: “About a year ago, a pro­posed visit to a state was can­celled be­cause there was no money left in (the al­lo­cated bud­get for) that fi­nan­cial year.” The draft pol­icy, once ap­proved by the Union Cabi­net, aims to grant grounds for the Par­lia­ment to make the com­mis­sion fi­nan­cially au­ton­o­mous, with an ini­tial en­dow­ment of Rs 5,000 crore. NSC’s role, how­ever, will re­main re­stricted to ad­vis­ing the gov­ern­ment. The pol­icy men­tions that the com­mis­sion will be a reg­u­la­tor,

but does not as­sign it reg­u­la­tory func­tions be­yond au­dit and cen­sure of gov­ern­ment sta­tis­ti­cal bod­ies. “On sev­eral oc­ca­sions we are told that the com­mis­sion’s role is ba­si­cally to clear sur­veys and to ad­vise the gov­ern­ment. That is a very weak way of putting the com­mis­sion’s role,” Panda said. NSC mem­bers also said that the com­mis­sion was not con­sulted on the draft pol­icy be­fore it was re­leased by the sta­tis­tics min­istry for pub­lic com­ments. “The United King­dom ini­tially tried a sta­tis­tics com­mis­sion just like ours. But, af­ter a few years they did not find it use­ful. So they formed the UK Sta­tis­tics Au­thor­ity. It is au­ton­o­mous and re­sponds di­rectly to the Par­lia­ment,” NSC mem­ber PC Mo­hanan told In­dia Le­gal. The pol­icy draft also it­er­ates the im­por­tance of NSC’s in­de­pen­dence: “The main pur­pose of hav­ing a statu­tory com­mis­sion is to en­sure that the pro­duc­tion of core sta­tis­tics and their re­lease are free from gov­ern­ment in­flu­ence, to meet the prob­lem of co­or­di­na­tion and to en­sure pub­lic trust in sta­tis­tics.” The pol­icy also pro­poses to cre­ate a new body, the Na­tional Sta­tis­tics De­vel­op­ment Coun­cil (NSDC), with the Prime Min­is­ter as its ex-of­fi­cio head, “to pro­vide di­rec­tions to the NSC” on lim­ited pol­icy mat­ters. How­ever, crit­ics ques­tion the ne­ces­sity of cre­at­ing such a ver­ti­cal. “I don’t know if the NSDC is re­ally needed. What is the idea be­hind the NSDC? You want the Prime Min­is­ter’s ap­proval,” Dr Ankush Agrawal, a pro­fes­sor of eco­nomics at In­dian In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy Delhi, told In­dia Le­gal. MVS Ran­ganad­ham, Di­rec­tor Gen­eral of Cen­tral Sta­tis­tics Of­fice dis­agrees. “The NSDC is not for con­trol. We call it col­lab­o­ra­tion and co­op­er­a­tion. It is not a ques­tion of who is big­ger,” he told In­dia Le­gal, adding: “Co­op­er­a­tion with states is very im­por­tant for largescale sta­tis­ti­cal ac­tiv­i­ties. NSDC will han­dle th­ese as­pects of cen­tre-state re­la­tions.” Core Sta­tis­tics Ran­ganad­ham said the best fea­ture of the pol­icy is that it clas­si­fies a num­ber of data sets as “core sta­tis­tics”. Core sta­tis­tics, the draft says, will be sub­ject to more rig­or­ous stan­dards for qual­ity and time­li­ness. The draft lists 120 data sets as “core sta­tis­tics”: from food grain dis­tri­bu­tion records and mon­soon per­for­mance to land records and GDP growth. It also pro­poses a con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment to in­clude core sta­tis­tics in the Union list. “It is nec­es­sary to en­sure that the Union list pro­vides for reg­u­lat­ing sta­tis­tics of na­tional im­por­tance, which as­pect can­not be left to be de­cided by states (sic),” it says. “This makes the cen­tral gov­ern­ment bear the cost of pro­duc­ing and dis­sem­i­nat­ing core sta­tis­tics. This also fa­cil­i­tates reg­u­la­tion of core sta­tis­tics,”the draft adds. Not all agree with the “na­tional im­por­tance” premise. The Cen­tre for In­ter­net and So­ci­ety (CIS), a not-for-profit or­gan­i­sa­tion, in its re­sponse to the pol­icy draft, said: “The de­scrip­tion of what con­sti­tutes core sta­tis­tics casts too wide a net by only hav­ing a sin­gle vague qual­i­ta­tive cri­te­rion, i.e., na­tional im­por­tance.” Core sta­tis­tics “in­clude items such as ‘land­hold­ings num­ber, area, ten­ancy, land uti­liza­tion’ and ‘sta­tis­tics on land records’ while most re­spon­si­bil­i­ties of land reg­u­la­tion cur­rently lie with the states,” CIS said. Adding core sta­tis­tics to the Union list “will pre­vent the states from en­act­ing any leg­is­la­tion that reg­u­lates the man­age­ment of sta­tis­tics re­gard­ing their own ad­min­is­tra­tive re­spon­si­bil­i­ties,” it con­tin­ued. The cen­tral gov­ern­ment, last year, had also pushed through an amend­ment to the Col­lec­tion of Sta­tis­tics Act, 2008, without re­fer­ring it to any Par­lia­men­tary Stand­ing Com­mit­tee. Yet, con­cerns over cen­tral­iza­tion of of­fi­cial sta­tis­tics are off­set by calls for stan­dard­iza­tion of the cur­rent sys­tem. “Our data sys­tem is highly de­cen­tral­ized. It goes down to the pan­chayat level. We need a proper pol­icy of for­mal­ized data sys­tems that ev­ery­one fol­lows,” NSC mem­ber Ra­jiv Me­hta told In­dia Le­gal. “Any na­tional sta­tis­tics can­not be com­piled without co­or­di­na­tion of states. It is not pos­si­ble to have all of­fi­cial sta­tis­tics within the con­fines of the union list. The draft pol­icy also has to be repli­cated at state level,” said Amey Sapre, a con­sul­tant at the Na­tional In­sti­tute of Pub­lic Fi­nance and Pol­icy. Keep­ing Prom­ises The pol­icy draft, at sev­eral points, in­vokes the UN Fun­da­men­tal Prin­ci­ples on Of­fi­cial Sta­tis­tics and ex­presses com­mit­ment to ideals such as trans­parency, in­de­pen­dence, and timely dis­clo­sure of sta­tis­tics. But, re­view­ers say there is an ab­sence of guar­an­tees to en­sure that th­ese as­sur­ances are fol­lowed in prac­tice. “A run­ning theme in the doc­u­ment is that it has no specifics de­fined,” said Gur­shabad Grover, a re­searcher at CIS. Ran­ganad­ham, how­ever, ex­plained the gov­ern­ment’s ra­tio­nale thus:

M. Venka­iah Naidu, Vice Pres­i­dent of In­dia

D. V. Sadananda Gowda, Union Min­is­ter for Sta­tis­tics & Pro­gramme Im­ple­men­ta­tion

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