(Photo: Reuters)
(Photo: Reuters)

Opinion | Defog Indian data

If our methods of data collection and analysis need to be updated, then this is a good time for a review

As a term, “credible statistics" is oxymoronic. So say cynics, the sort influenced by the “three kinds of lies" that prevail in Western folklore—“lies, damned lies, and statistics". But modern management is about working on variables, and that requires their measurement, even if the tools we use assure us approximations of reality, at best, rather than an accurate picture of reality itself. An economy, for example, cannot be managed without numbers. So it is a good sign that India’s government has decided to formulate a new national policy on official statistics. We have had too many controversies over what our numbers tell us about the country, and it hasn’t helped that the Centre has either dissed or dumped them by the gigabyte-load.

If our methods of data collection and analysis need to be updated, then this is a good time for a review. The National Statistical Organisation, for one, needs relief from the war of words its findings spark off each time it does a survey that has dismal figures to report. Policymakers and analysts, meanwhile, need data just to see what’s going on.

For top-drawer credibility, which would be the aim of India’s policy revision, our systems need to meet the world’s top standards. To this end, it would help if we set up a panel of globally renowned statisticians to offer their expertise. Data should be seen for what it is, a public good, and the basic facts should always be above politics. Indian statistics need to be shielded from political interference. If the new policy ensures that, Indians would be glad. Or, at least less cynical about what the numbers say.

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