Citing risk to national and global reputation of India’s statistical bodies due to political interference, 108 economists and social scientists in a joint statement on Thursday appealed to all economists and statisticians to raise their voice against “the tendency to suppress uncomfortable data”.
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 statement said, giving examples of upward revision of GDP growth rate for 2016-17, interference of NITI Aayog in GDP back series and withholding of the release of Periodic Labour Force Survey for 2017-18 by the government.
They called upon economists and social scientists to “impress upon the government authorities, current and future, and at all levels, to restore access and integrity to public statistics, and re-establish institutional independence and integrity to the statistical organisations”.
The economists who have signed the statement include Jean Dreze of Allahabad University, R Nagaraj of IGIDR, Abhijit Sen of JNU, Jayati Ghosh of JNU, Amartya Lahiri of UBC, Canada and James Boyce of University of Massachusetts, US.
“For decades, India’s statistical machinery enjoyed a high level of reputation for the integrity of the data it produced on a range of economic and social parameters. It was often criticised for the quality of its estimates, but never were allegations made of political interference influencing decisions and the estimates themselves. Lately, the Indian statistics and the institutions associated with it have however come under a cloud for being influenced and indeed even controlled by political considerations,” it said.
It is imperative that the agencies associated with collection and dissemination of statistics like Central Statistics Office (CSO) and National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) are not subject to political interference and their work, therefore, enjoys total credibility, it said.
The economists said the new GDP series issued by CSO in 2015 showed a significantly faster growth rate for the years 2012-13 and 2013-14 compared with the earlier series and since then, with almost every new release of GDP numbers, more problems with the base-year revision have come to light.
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