New Delhi: Pronab Sen, outgoing chief statistician of India and secretary, ministry of statistics and programme implementation, talks about the challenges facing the country’s statistical system and why his post needs to be occupied by a professional in the second and concluding part of this interview. The first part was carried in Mint on Thursday. Edited excerpts:
Being the first chief statistician of India (CSI), what are your thoughts on whether the post should be held by a professional or a bureaucrat?
Reform agenda: For programme implementation, Sen says, there have to be better physical targets which can be seen and monitored. Ramesh Pathania / Mint
I think the particular position of the CSI requires the person to be able to do two things. First, of course, is that he or she is in a sense the technical head of the entire statistical system—which means the person must be able command a certain degree of respect in terms of his professional credentials. Because he actually has to take decisions and give guidance in terms of the direction in which the statistical system should move which requires an understanding not only of statistics but also of what users want.
On the other side, the CSI is also the head of the administration. Hence a lot of his work involves personnel matters as the cadre controller. So it does require a person who can assess the calibre of a person and his suitability for performing a particular function.
Should the posts of chief statistician and statistics secretary be separated?
It would make a mess and it will not be a good idea.
How satisfied are you with your tenure as the first chief statistician of India? What are the major reforms you think you were able to bring about?
I have mixed feelings. I do not think I am close to completing the kind of changes that are necessary. But that does not mean that nothing has happened. Quite a bit has happened. I think the most important thing is that today there is transparency in the statistical system.
The second thing that has happened—which has nothing to do with me, it has to do with the system—(is) that the visibility of the statistical system has gone up. I think as a consequence the morale of the service personnel has improved quite substantially. But I think there is a long way to go. A lot of things should have happened, but for one reason or the other they had to be soft-pedalled. The biggest one of these is employment statistics. If we could have had that before the economic crisis, we would have been a whole lot better off. But it is now pretty clear that the processes through which the statistical system operates have to change.
The new statistics Act is only an enabling condition. How to make the data collection process more efficient is going to depend on the collateral steps that we take.
One problem always has been that though we have this huge government data, we have never been able to commercially sell it.
It was a lot worse than that. We did not even make it available, forget about selling. That has changed. Whatever data that we have is now available to everybody. Whether we use it commercially or not is a separate issue. To use it commercially we need to provide value-added services. We have to develop the capacity to do analytical work on the data and then provide it. I have a hard time to man my computer centre.
The fact of the matter is that the government is not a commercial organization.
Data and information are in the nature of public goods. So what we do charge is for the cost of maintaining and providing the data. There are a number of private statistical organization who are taking our data and doing value addition to that.
Though a monthly Wholesale Price Index (WPI) is now on the anvil, is the data collection system being made robust?
Earlier, WPI was entirely respondent based. Now we’ve got a dedicated team of investigators for collecting WPI data. The positions have been created by DIPP (department of industrial policy and promotion) but they are being operated through NSSO (National Sample Survey Organisation).
You also handle programme implementation. How efficiently are government programmes being implemented?
As far as programme implementation is concerned, our job is really to monitor the physical targets.
We have two broad categories: one is Central government projects and the other is the 20-point programme. Central government projects are monitored pretty well. The 20-point programme, which in itself is a misnomer because it has 62 schemes divided under 20 heads. Out of these 62, we have been able to get physical targets only for 19 because for others there are no physical targets. So on those the basis of monitoring is the financial expenditure, which we do not do anyway. That is being done by the audit.
So if we want to monitor schemes, there have to be better physical targets which can be seen and monitored.