The Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation has formed a new Standing Committee on Statistics (SCoS) to advise on official data generated by the National Statistical Office (NSO).
This panel, chaired by former National Statistical Commission chief and India’s first Chief Statistician Pronab Sen, will replace another committee headed by him that was formed in 2019 to advise on economic data.
About Standing Committee on Statistics
- Mandated to review the framework for economic indicators such as those pertaining to the industrial and services sectors, along with labour force statistics.
- This meant its focus was limited to reviewing high-frequency data like the Index of Industrial Production (IIP) and the Consumer Price Index (CPI), apart from surveys and enumerations like the Economic Census, Annual Survey of Industries and the Periodic Labour Force Survey.
- The SCoS, has “enhanced terms of reference” that enable it to advise the Ministry not just on all existing surveys and data sets, but also identify areas where data gaps exist, suggest ways to fill them and carry out pilot surveys and studies to finetune new approaches for capturing better data.
- The new committee is also half the size of the 28-member panel that was reviewing economic data.
Why does it matter?
- In recent years, the credibility of some of NSO’s data, especially the results of various household surveys traditionally carried out by the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) have come under a cloud, with even top government officials questioning their approach and outcomes.
- Data quality issues
- India’s key economic indicators such as retail inflation, GDP or even the extent of poverty, usually revised based on evolving consumption trends, continue to be based on the 2011-12 numbers, and are divorced from contemporary ground realities.
- It compels the government to rely on proxy data such as Employees’ Provident Fund (EPF) account numbers to gauge employment trends and the National Family Health Survey to assess poverty levels.
How can the SCoS bridge the trust deficit surrounding official data?
- While it can advise the Statistics Ministry on individual surveys and data sets, the new panel is also expected to help address issues raised “from time to time” on the results and methodology of surveys.
- With survey design and features evolving, the panel can seek to sensitise data users about the nuances involved to ensure better interpretation of the numbers.
- Most importantly, the SCoS, which will help the NSO finalise survey results and, the independent National Statistical Commission that is empowered to assess whether any official data is fit for release, must seek to rebuild the credibility of India’s statistics.
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