New Delhi: The independence and integrity of the statistical system of India is in danger. Recent moves by the Modi government to suppression and manipulate statistical data that was in contrast with government expectations will be disastrous for the country. It will jeoparadise the country’s time tested institutions. A group of renowned economists and social scientists have the slammed the government and appealed against suppression of uncomfortable date. They also demanded authorities to re-establish the institutional independence and integrity of the statistical system in India.
This comes after allegations that the government is suppressing date related to growth and unemployment that are not very attractive. The growing skepticism forced a group of 108 economists and social scientists from across the world to appeal against the tendency to suppress uncomfortable data.
The eminent people who raised their issue include R. Nagaraj of Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research; Pulin Nayak, formerly with Delhi School of Economics; Abhijit Sen of Jawaharlal Nehru University; Jean Dreze of Allahabad University; Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Rakesh Basant of the Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Ahmedabad; Satish Deshpande of LFP Delhi University; Patrick Francois of University of British Columbia, Canada; R Ramakumar of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences; Hema Swaminathan of IIM-Bangalore; and Rohit Azad of JNU, among others. The statement issued by them reads “Any statistics that cast an iota of doubt on the achievement of the government seem to get revised or suppressed on the basis of some questionable methodology. The national and global reputation of India’s statistical bodies is at stake.”
The academicians alleged that the change in GDP base year in 2015 by the Central Statistics Office, showed a significantly faster growth rate for the years 2012-13 and 2013-14 compared to growth under the earlier series and more problems have come to light with every new release of GDP numbers. They also pointed out the significant differences in the estimates of back series GDP data by a committee appointed by the National Statistical Commission and the CSO. “The two showed quite opposite growth rates for the last decade. The National Statistical Commission numbers were removed from the official website and the CSO numbers were later presented to the public by the planning body NITI Aayog. The NITI Aayog has been 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," it added.
Another highly debated example of interference by the government is the employment survey by NSSO. The survey by National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) under the annual Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS), which led to resignation of the acting chairman and a member of the National Statistical Commission after government inordinately delayed its release was also highlighted by the academicians. “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," the statement said.
The academicians are of the opinion that 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 policy-making and that would make for honest and democratic public discourse,” they said.
The open letter under the heading “Economic Statistics in a Shambles: Need to Raise a Voice” by the academicians released on Thursday, appealed to all professional economists, statisticians and independent researchers to come together to raise their voice against the tendency “to suppress uncomfortable data” and impress upon the government the need to restore access and integrity to public statistics and re-establish institutional independence.