(Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint)
(Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint)

Why is the government merging India’s statistics bodies?

  • NSSO and CSO are to be merged into what will be known as NSO
  • The order puts the merged entity under Mospi secretary

The ministry of statistics and programme implementation (Mospi) passed an order on 23 May to merge the Central Statistics Office (CSO) and National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) into the National Statistical Office (NSO). Mint analyses what led to the decision.

When was a revamp of the statistical system first proposed?

In 2000, a committee headed by former Reserve Bank of India (RBI) governor C. Rangarajan suggested the establishment of NSO as the nodal body for all core statistical activities. It would have worked under the National Statistical Commission (NSC), which was to be answerable to Parliament, not the government. The intent was to clean up collection, calculation and dissemination of data. NSC was set up in June 2005, but didn’t have a statutory role. It was given supervisory powers over one arm of the statistical system, NSSO. The idea of an NSO that would include NSSO and CSO was not effected.

What is the row over India’s growth numbers and data systems?

The Narendra Modi government has been accused of fudging growth numbers and tinkering with jobs data that would have shown it in poor light. Numbers are sacrosanct and international organizations rely on them to arrive at their own estimates for a country’s growth trajectory and economic potential. These estimates help them make decisions related to investments and trade. The last straw came in January when two NSC members resigned because they felt NSSO was delaying the release of a jobs report at the behest of Mospi, though NSC had cleared it.

What does Mospi’s 23 May order say?

The order says NSSO and CSO are to be merged into what will be known as NSO. The Mospi secretary would head NSO and three director generals would assist him.

What does the order indicate?

The order makes no mention of NSC, reinforcing the long-held belief that the government was undermining it. The merger of CSO and NSSO—an entity separate from Mospi—will take away the latter’s autonomy. The order seems to suggest NSC’s independent oversight mechanism will no longer exist and makes no mention of that. The order clearly puts the merged entity under Mospi secretary, raising questions about the independence of the process through which official survey data is collected and published.

What are observers and the government saying about the revamp?

Some observers call it a bid to junk NSC and say this is in reaction to the resignations at NSC earlier this year that embarrassed the government. Another view is that NSC will come back in a different avatar, perhaps backed by a law, as was envisaged by the Rangarajan panel. This would make it a more effective body. Mospi said the new framework would streamline and bolster its present nodal functions and bring in more synergy by integrating its administrative functions within the ministry.

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