Release withheld official data, over 200 academicians urge central government
Over 200 academics including economists and political scientists from India and abroad have published a statement urging the central government to release NSSO data and keep statistical institutions away from political interference
A group of 214 leading academics from India and abroad has issued a statement urging the central government to release results of surveys conducted by the National Sample Survey Office, which have been allegedly withheld because they showed the economy was doing poorly.
The signatories, which included Nobel laureate Angus Deaton, French economist Thomas Piketty, political scientist Christophe Jaffrelot and former planning commission members Abhijit Sen and A Vaidyanathan, cited a recent report by Business Standard, which said that the 2017-18 Consumer Expenditure Survey showed a sharp decline in average consumption, fist time in 40 years, indicating an economic slowdown.
The government says that it withheld the reports because of “data quality” problems, as the data had higher divergence with the "administrative data" than for earlier surveys.
"It should be noted that consumption surveys are known to give results that diverge from macroeconomic estimates of the National Accounts. Also, National Accounts estimates are based not only on administrative data but on a combination of sources including NSSO and other surveys," the statement that came out on Thursday said.
"Several committees have looked into these discrepancies. While further work can be done to identify sources of and reduce these discrepancies, the common understanding has been that the flaws lie as much in the methods deployed for arriving at macroeconomic estimates as they do in surveys," it added.
The academics pointed out that consumption surveys are crucial for monitoring trends in poverty and inequality, and provide an important check on administrative and macroeconomic data, which is important both for policymakers and the general public.
"The fact that data on the supply of goods and household consumption are diverging points to the need for questioning supply-side data (which are being widely questioned within and outside India) as much as it points to the continuing need for improving survey methods," they said.
The central government has come under criticism from several corners for alleged interference in the working of official statistical agencies. In May, it had decided to merge the NSSO with the Central Statistics Office and put it under the National Statistical Office (NSO), headed by the secretary of the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation (MOSPI).
The National Sample Survey Organisation, which comes under the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation, conducts national surveys based on random samples of the Indian population, to assess the socio-economic progress across the country. Such surveys are also to help the government in better planning and policymaking.
"This government has chosen to attack the credibility of this pre-eminent statistical institution simply because the results of the surveys do not accord with its own narrative about the economy, without providing any adequate reasons, and by misrepresenting essential features of the surveys. It has repeatedly shown its disinclination to make public any information that may show its own performance in a poor light," the statement said.
"This suppression of essential data is terrible for accountability and for ensuring that citizens have the benefit of official data collection that is paid for with their taxes. It is also counterproductive for the government, which may be kept in the dark about actual trends in the economy and therefore not be able to devise appropriate policies. Undermining the objectivity and credibility of an independent statistical system is fundamentally against the national interest."
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And read the full statement here: