In what adds a fresh twist to the controversy over the downward revision of UPA growth data, it is now learnt that almost three years ago, the Central Statistics Office (CSO), in the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation, had finalised back series data for GDP following a change in the base year from 2004-05 to 2011-12. That exercise had led to an upward revision in growth rates for the UPA years but the Niti Aayog, then under Vice Chairman Arvind Panagariya, did not allow its release.
While Panagariya could not be reached and did not respond to a text message and an e-mail, then Chief Statistician T C A Anant confirmed that the release of data was withheld.
“Niti Aayog had issues with a particular proxy we used for corporate sector growth estimates,” Anant told The Indian Express. There will always be some degree of variation in growth data, Anant said, adding that perhaps Niti Aayog should have looked at sectorwise data rather than aggregates (overall growth rates).
Then Chairman of the National Statistical Commission (NSC) Pronab Sen who was present at the discussion where Niti Aayog rejected CSO’s analysis, said: “Niti Aayog took just one look at the growth rates which were going higher after 2004-05 and said, ‘We can’t allow it’. There was a question on the robustness of relationships, for example, between MCA (Ministry of Company Affairs) and RBI data. There are ways of getting around this.”
Questions on data integrity
The fact that there is another set of data on GDP figures that Niti Aayog didn’t allow to be released raises institutional questions. Rejecting CSO data is the prerogative of the government. But what is important is the credibility of the statistical system since it is key to designing policy based on evidence. In a poll year, expect more politics over this economics.
The back-series data released by Niti Aayog and the CSO on November 28 said the economy grew an average 6.7 per cent during the two UPA terms, lower than the 7.4 per cent average growth rate during the first four years of the current NDA government.
When contacted, present Chief Statistician of India, Pravin Srivastava, told The Indian Express: “Every (GDP estimation) exercise is an evolutional process. The methodology we used is consistent with SNA 2008. It is not growth rate that you rework; what you do is essentially recalibrate the data with contribution of different sectors.” SNA 2008, or the System of National Accounts 2008, is the latest version of international statistical standard for the national accounts adopted by the United Nations Statistical Commission.
Asked whether he had worked on the earlier back series data which the Niti Aayog rejected, Srivastava said: “It would not be fair to say that. Given the absence of data, there was a need to evolve on it.”
Earlier in August, an NSC-appointed committee had stated that the economy grew at a faster pace under the UPA government from 2004-05 to 2013-14. The average GDP at market prices was 8.37 per cent during UPA-I (2004-05 to 2008-09), and 7.69 per cent during UPA-II (2009-10 to 2013-14), the Committee had said. This was criticised by the current Niti Aayog chief Rajiv Kumar as being “neither here nor there.”