NEW DELHI: Amid growing scepticism over India’s official statistics, 108 economists and social scientists from across the world have appealed against the tendency to suppress uncomfortable data, seeking to impress upon the government authorities to re-establish institutional independence and integrity of the statistical system.
The academicians who have raised their concern 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 among others.
“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," a statement from the academicians said.
The academicians alleged that after the GDP base year revision in 2015 by the Central Statistics Office (CSO), which showed a significantly faster growth rate for the years 2012-13 and 2013-14 compared to growth under the earlier series, more problems have come to light with every new release of GDP numbers. “In January this year, 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," the statement said.
The statement also pointed out the significant divergence 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 Niti 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," it added.
The fiasco over the new employment survey by the 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.