Facing Criticism over the NITI Aayog’s presence at the release of the GDP back series data by the Central Statistics Office (CSO) last week, Aayog Vice-Chairman Rajiv Kumar said his department was asked to “have a look” at the data before it was released. He also said the government was open to making any improvements if factual and methodological errors were pointed out in the calculation of data.
Many economists have questioned the NITI Aayog’s role in the release of the statistical exercise of CSO, which comes under the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Imple- mentation (MoSPI).
“Everybody knows that until not too long ago, the Department of Statistics was part of the Planning Commission.
There have always been close links between the two, simply because we use data so extensively and we work together. For example, the task force on employment statistics was chaired by my predecessor. Its recommendations are now being implemented by the CSO. In this case also, when they were about to release the back series, they asked us to have a look,” Kumar said in an interview with The Indian Express.
“NITI organised two roundtables… wherein the experts gave valuable suggestions. NITI provided the platform and subsequently, the CSO requested participation in the release. Both MoSPI and NITI are components of the Government of India, so why would it be political? Where is the issue? I think Dr Pronab Sen having raised that issue is totally unnecessary. Back series is not just a ‘technistic’ exercise, it’s an issue with many dimensions and it affects the whole macro economy,” he said.
Sen, former chief statistician of India, had criticised the Aayog’s involvement in presenting the data alongside the CSO.
The Department of Statistics came into being as a part of the Ministry of Planning in 1973. In 1999, the Department of Statistics and Department of Programme Implementation were merged and an independent Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation was formed. The NDA government formed the National Institution for Transforming India, also called NITI Aayog, through a resolution of the Union Cabinet on January 1, 2015, in place of the Planning Commission which was dissolved.
Kumar said the new numbers are “not just simply factual and correct” but a significant improvement, and are more in sync with the System of National Accounts of the UN of 2008. “There is no reason for anybody to cast any aspersions on it. The CSO staff are not a political set of people, they are professionals. Now they have brought out a GDP number (July-September quarter) which is lower… if they were politically driven, this would have been higher than the previous quarter,” he said.
The back series data released last Wednesday trimmed the growth numbers for the UPA government’s nine years (2005-06 to 2013-14), with the Indian economy growing at an average 6.7% in four years of the UPA’s first term (2005-06 to 2008-09) as well as the UPA’s second term (2009-10 to 2013-14) — lower than the earlier estimates of 8.1% and 7.0% (2004-05 base) respectively.
These growth rates compare with an average 7.4% growth rate (2011-12 base year) seen during the first four years of the present NDA government. The earlier back series estimates were presented by a Committee on Real Sector Statistics appointed by the National Statistical Commission (NSC).
Kumar said “the Committee on Real Sector Statistics was not supposed to estimate back series” and “there was no question of the government accepting” their estimates. He said the committee did not adopt the System of National Accounts, 2008 that is now recommended by the United Nations.
“MoSPI has done other improvements, as a result of which the results are as different as they are, and I can vouch for their professional integrity. Ten leading statisticians/ economists of the country have reviewed and vetted this methodology. Therefore, to cast any aspersions on the CSO is simply not the right thing to do,” Kumar said.
The issue led to a political debate, with former Finance Minister P Chidambaram calling the revised GDP numbers a “bad joke” and a “hatchet job”. Responding to Chidambaram’s criticism, Kumar said: “Look at the data, go into the details, tell us our mistakes, we will accept them. If you base your criticism on some technical reasons, it gives us a chance to improve it, but to just call names and cast aspersions on an organisation’s integrity is the worst thing that you can do… Such base revisions are always done, it’s done in every country of the world.”
He said the downward revision in growth rates happened because the new series estimated the growth rate of the tertiary sector better, as these were overestimated in the previous series.