Sunday, October 2, 2022

National Statistical Commission ex-Chairman says India’s data integrity at stake

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PW Bureau

Mohanan is one of the two independent members of the NSC who unexpectedly quit last month from the central panel

New Delhi: The integrity of India’s statistics system is being undermined by government interference, PC Mohanan, the former acting head of the National Statistical Commission (NSC), said, further questioning the reliability of the information pertaining to the country’s economy. Doubts raised about the apex statistical body by Niti Aayog, the lack of sufficient statisticians and withholding of a jobs report affected the institution, he said.

Mohanan is one of the two independent members of the NSC who unexpectedly quit last month from the central panel.

Survey reports never questioned before

“I had never felt any pressure from the government” until recently, Mohanan said. “Even when the economic reforms were carried out in the early 1990s, nobody questioned the survey reports that showed increased poverty figures.”

As an example of interference, Mohanan pointed out at think tank NITI Aayog’s comments on the National Sample Survey Office’s jobs report. The spokesperson NITI Aayog was not available for a comment.

During the demonetisation year in 2017 when Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration banned 86 percent of currency, information from January showed economic growth was among the fastest ever at 8.2 percent.

The ‘jobs report’

“The magnitude is the issue,” Mohanan said. “If the revisions are large, then there is a problem not just for investors but also for the government because a lot of calculations are based on those GDP numbers.”

The government also withheld a jobs report that showed joblessness rate was at the highest in 45 years.

“Over the years, we found that the ministry of statistics was not serious about the commission,” Mohanan said. “We found that one of the reports that we had approved was not getting released.”

The government later dismissed the findings of the leaked jobs data, contending that they weren’t final, according to NITI Aayog Vice Chairman Rajiv Kumar.

A fifth of the total posts in Indian Statistical Service vacant

The latest annual report released by the Ministry of Statistics showed that almost a fifth of the posts in the Indian Statistical Service were vacant, and the chunk was about a quarter for the junior positions.

“Money isn’t an issue, manpower is,” Mohanan said. “But this broadly is in line with the government’s policy where it is not recruiting.”

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