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Economic Statistics in a Shambles


Economic statistics are a public good. They are a vital necessity for policymaking and informed public discourse in democracies where citizens seek accountability from their government. The use of scientific methods for collection, estimation and their timely dissemination, therefore, form vital public services. It is, thus, imperative that the agencies associated with collection and dissemination of statistics, such as the Central Statistics Office (CSO) and the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO), are not subject to political interference and their work

enjoys total credibility. For these reasons, globally, such institutions are usually bestowed with professional autonomy.

For decades, India’s statistical machinery has enjoyed a high level of reputation for the integrity of the data it produced on a range of economic and social parameters. It has often been criticised for the quality of its estimates, but never were allegations made of political interference influencing decisions and the estimates themselves.

Lately, Indian statistics and the institutions associated with it have however come under a cloud for being influenced and indeed even controlled by political considerations.

In early 2015, the CSO issued a new gross domestic product (GDP) series (with the revised base year 2011–12), which showed a significantly faster growth rate for 2012–13 and 2013–14 compared to growth under the earlier series. These revised estimates were surprising as they did not square with related macroaggregates. Since then, with almost every new release of GDP numbers, more problems with the base year revision have come to light. In January 2019, for instance, the CSO’s revised estimates of GDP growth rate for 2016–17 (the year of demonetisation) shot up by 1.1 percentage points to 8.2%, the highest in a decade. This seems to be at variance with the evidence marshalled by many economists.

In 2018, two competing back series for varying lengths of time were prepared separately by two official bodies, (a committee of) the National Statistical Commission (NSC) and later by the CSO. The two showed quite opposite growth rates for the last decade. The NSC numbers were removed from the official website and the CSO numbers were later presented to the public by theNiti Aayog, an advisory body which had hitherto no expertise in statistical data collection. All this caused great damage to the institutional integrity of the autonomous statistical bodies.

In December 2018, the schedule for the release of results from the Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS) of the NSSO was not met. This was the first economy-wide employment survey conducted by the NSSO after 2011–12 and was therefore deemed important. Two members of the NSC, including the acting chairperson, subsequently resigned because they felt the NSSO was delaying the release of the report, though the NSC itself had officially cleared it. Subsequently, news reports based on leaks of the report showed an unprecedented rise in unemployment rates in 2017–18; this perhaps explained why the government did not want to release the report. There have since been news reports that the PLFS of 2017–18 will be scrapped altogether by the government.

In fact, any statistics that casts an iota of doubt on the achievement of the government seems to get revised or suppressed on the basis of some questionable methodology.

This is the time for all professional economists, statisticians, independent researchers in policy—regardless of their political and ideological leanings—to come together to raise their voice against the tendency to suppress uncomfortable data, and impress upon the government authorities (current and future, and at all levels) to restore access and integrity to public statistics, and re-establish institutional independence and integrity to the statistical organisations. 

The national and global reputation of India’s statistical bodies is at stake. More than that, statistical integrity is crucial for generating data that would feed into economic policymaking and that would make for honest and democratic public discourse.

Rohit Azad, Amiya Bagchi, Pulapre Balakrishnan, Pradipta Bandopadhyay, Abhijit Banerjee, Arindam Banerjee, Taposik Banerjee, Pranab Bardhan, Rakesh Basant, Amit Basole and 98 others

For Web:

1. Rohit Azad (Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU))

2. Amiya Bagchi (Institute of Development Studies Kolkata (IDSK))

3. Pulapre Balakrishnan (Ashoka University)

4. Pradipta Bandopadhyay (Indian Statistical Institute (ISI) Kolkata)

5. Abhijit Banerjee (Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), US)

6. Arindam Banerjee (Ambedkar University Delhi (AUD))

7. Taposik Banerjee (AUD)

8. Pranab Bardhan (University of California at Berkeley)

9. Rakesh Basant (India Institute of Management Ahmadabad (IIM-A))

10. Amit Basole (AzimPremji University (APU))

11. Amit Bhaduri (JNU)

12. Debashish Bhattacherjee (Indian Institute of Management Calcutta (IIM-C))

13. Rajesh Bhattacharya (IIM-C)

14. Sukanta Bhattacharya (University of Calcutta)

15. James Boyce (University of Massachusetts at Amherst, US)

16. Emily Breza (Harvard University, US)

17. Achin Chakraborty (IDSK)

18. Manisha Chakraborty (IIM-Calcutta)

19. Tanika Chakraborty (IIM Calcutta)

20. Mahalaya Chatterjee (University of Calcutta)

21. Arun Chandrasekhar (Stanford University, US)

22. C P Chandrasekhar (JNU)

23. Ignatius Chithelen (Banyan Tree Capital New York)

24. Shamik Chowdhury (AUD)

25. Romar Correa (formerly with Mumbai University)

26. Arindam Das-Gupta (Goa Institute of Management)

27. Indraneel Dasgupta (ISI-Kolkata)

28. Madhav Datar (formerly with IDBI Bank)

29. Ashwini Deshpande (Ashoka University)

30. SatishDeshpande (Delhi University)

31. Ritu Diwan (Indian Association of Women’s Studies)

32. Jean Dreze (Allahabad University)

33. Esther Duflo (MIT, US)

34. Patrick Francois (University of British Columbia(UBC), Canada)

35. MaitreeshGhatak (London School of Economics)

36. Jayati Ghosh (JNU)

37. MeenaGopal (Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) Mumbai)

38. Sumeet Gulati (UBC, Canada)

39. Himanshu (JNU)

40. Arjun Jayadev (APU)

41. Mary John (Centre for Women’s Development Studies, Delhi)

42. A V Jose (formerly with International Labour Organisation)

43. K P Kannan (Centre for Development Studies, Trivandrum)

44. Retika Khera (Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad (IIM-A))

45. Ashok Kotwal (UBC, Canada)

46. N Krishnaji (formerly with CDS)

47. Sashi Kumar (Asianet)

48. Amartya Lahiri (UBC, Canada)

49. Kanika Mahajan (Ashoka University)

50. Surajit Majumdar (JNU)

51. Deepak Malghan (Indian Institute of Management Bangalore (IIM-B))

52. Nandini Manjrekar(TISS, Mumbai)

53. Sona Mitra (Institute of Financial Management Research)

54. Mritiunjoy Mohanty (IIM Calcutta)

55. Kumarjit Mandal (University of Calcutta)

56. Dilip Mookherjee (Boston University, US)

57. Sebastian Morris (IIM-A)

58. Sripad Motiram (UMass Boston)

59. Anirban Mukherjee (University of Calcutta)

60. Ishita Mukhopadhyay (University of Calcutta)

61. R Nagaraj (Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research, (IGIDR), Mumbai)

62. Sudha Narayanan (IGIDR)

63. Pulin Nayak (formerly DSE)

64. Paul Niehaus (UC San Diegao, US)

65. Partha Pratim Pal (IIM Calcutta)

66. Ceena Paul (SNDT Women’s University)

67. Niranjan Rajadhyaksha (IDFC Institute, Mumbai)

68. R Ramakumar (TISS, Mumbai)

69. Srinivasan Ramani (The Hindu)

70. Bharat Ramaswami (Ashoka University)

71. J Mohan Rao (UMass Amherst)

72. Vikas Raval (JNU)

73. Debraj Ray (New York University, US)

74. Partha Ray (IIM- Calcutta)

75. Ranjan Ray (Monash University, Australia)

76. C Rammanohar Reddy (The India Forum)

77. Rahul Roy (ISI-Delhi)

78. Anamitra Roychowdhury (JNU)

79. Abhirup Sarkar (ISI-Calcutta)

80. Runa Sarkar (IIM Calcutta)

81. Abhijit Sen (JNU)

82. Anindya Sen (IIM Calcutta)

83. Chiranjib Sen (APU)

84. Gita Sen (formerly IIM-B)

85. Partha Sen (formerly DSE)

86. Rajeswari Sengupta (IGIDR)

87. A K Shiva Kumar (International Centre for Human Development, New Delhi)

88. Soumyen Sikdar (IIMC)

89. Saikat Sinha Roy (Jadavpur University)

90. Anup Sinha (Formerly IIMC)

91. Dipa Sinha (AUD)

92. Ashima Sood (ISB Hyderabad)

93. Atul Sood (JNU)

94. M S Sriram (IIM Bangalore)

95. S Subramanian (formerly with Madras Institute of Development Studies)

96. Sukhdeo Thorat (formerly University Grants Commission)

97. Sandip Sukhtankar (University Of Virginia, US)

98. Hema Swaminathan (IIM-B)

99. Madhuru Swaminathan (Indian Statistical Institute, Bengaluru (ISI-B)).

100. Padmini Swaminathan (formerly with Centre for Social Development, Hyderabad)

101. Alex Thomas (APU)

102. Jayan Jose Thomas (Indian Institute of Technology Delhi (IIT-D))

103. Jeemol Unni (Ahmedabad University)

104. A Vaidyanathan (formerly MIDS)

105. M Vijay Baskar (MIDS)

106. P S Vijayshankar (Samaj Pragati Sahajog)

107. Vamsi Vikulabharanam (UMass Amherst)

108. Brinda Viswanathan (Madras School of Economics)


Updated On : 15th Mar, 2019


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