Timely release of data crucial, data suppression leads to ‘demonising’ of it: ex-Chief Statistician Pronab Sen

Suppression of data and subsequent leaks have resulted in the “demonising of data” and ended up demoralising the country’s statistical system, former Chief Statistician of India, Pronab Sen said

Pronab Sen
Pronab Sen
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NH Web Desk

The former Chief Statistician of India (CSI), Pronab Sen, who will be the head of recently-formed Standing Committee on Economic Statistics said that the timely release of data sets is crucial for both government policy formulation and investment decisions by the industry.

On the question asked by The Indian Express if “withholding of key government data sets has dented India’s global image on official statistics,” Sen responded that the suppression of data and the subsequent leaks have progressively resulted in the “demonising of data” and ended up demoralising the country’s statistical system.

The NDA government has been drawing criticism for the last few years for suppressing data of many ministries, for example, Periodic Labour Force Survey and Annual Consumption Expenditure Survey for 2017-18 and the Mudra Survey. Though the government does have schedule for the release of data sets on industrial production, inflation and national accounts, but it does not have a time schedule for releasing data related to labour force statistics and consumption expenditure surveys.

Sen said, “… when data gets suppressed and then gets leaked, that happened over the last one year, the government’s reaction has been to actually demonize the data. That’s been the reaction. So earlier nobody questioned the data per se, now the government itself is questioning the data. And there’s this bizarre situation of people outside the government, the users, are saying, no, this data is fine. It should be exactly the other way round.”

“The incumbent government has calender of data sets of the national accounts, Index of Industrial Production and inflation to release, but there are no specific timeline for release of labour force statistics and consumption expenditure surveys,” he added.

Sen said that his role ends after submission of timely data to the National Statistical Office (NSO), but the National Statistical Commission (NSC) has the powers over and above the NSO, has a bigger role and can question delays in release of data.

Indian Express quoted Sen as saying that the onus is on the NSC to ensure the release of the data. “The suppression issue is not our issue. Our issue is if you guys come to me and say is the data available? And the answer is yes, it is available, it is with the NSO, please go ask the CSI (Chief Statistician of India) what is happening to it. My job ends there. It’s the NSC ‘s job to ask where is the data. We are told the data exists, it’s been approved, where is it?,” he said.

“The important thing is that they have to come up now with a release calendar. The urban (PLFS) data is quarterly. Now what they’ve been doing is they’ve been bringing them out in chunks rather than on a regular quarterly basis. So, suddenly four reports come together. What good is it for. There’s a reason why we had it quarterly,” he said.

On the NSC Bill, the draft in which invites public comments, proposes, Sen said, “With this Bill, power of NSC will be zero. Think of what this Bill is doing. You are converting the NSC into a PSU. That’s what you are doing. Has a ministry ever listened to a PSU? The Ministry tells the PSU, not the other way round. And, this Bill creates a PSU called the NSC.”

Sen, who is heading the sub-committee on Annual Survey of unincorporated sector enterprises and services sector data, said the data for unorganised sector would be important for decision making purpose, according to The Indian Express.

The ruling government is now working on collecting the data related to the unorganised sector as it does for the Annual Survey of Industries (ASI).

“I was already chairing that committee on the unorganised sector data and services. So that’s an ongoing thing. And that’s supposed to be annual, and it will start now. But the services sector (data), is to my mind less important because the services sector data is going to be pretty much like the ASI, which is very, very important for research and analytical purposes. But in terms of regular decision making, not that important because it comes with practically a two-year lag. But, the other one, the unorganised sector data is important,” he said.

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