All is not well in social statistics sector: Ansari
PATNA: Vice President M Hamid Ansari today stressed the need for getting credible and complete data for better policy planning, as he noted that "all is not well" in the Indian social statistics sector.
"Developing nations like India need socio-economic information about their population to design redistributive policies. Concerns have been expressed about efficiency and efficacy of public data collection and the gaps which exist in the Indian social statics," Ansari said delivering a key note address here at an International seminar on Social Statistics.
He said concerns have been raised about the quality of data being generated as also about duplication of the efforts to collect statistics across various government departments, inaccessibility of national data archives and infringement of privacy by government's data collection machinery.
"All is not well in the Indian social statistics sector," the Vice President added.
He said criticism of public statistics sector, especially when it comes to measurement of crosscutting social issues such as gender disparity, inequality, poverty and growth, seems valid.
"Our statistics have also attracted opprobrium on issues related to measurement of parameters related to the service sector, unorganised sector and unemployment figures," Ansari said, adding it was not only undermining the credibility of Indian statistics globally but also hurting the analysis of some of the most important elements of the country's economy.
He said the noted French economist Thomas Piketty has lamented the "huge gap" in statistics in India exemplified by paucity of data on income tax and the reluctance of the government to release the caste census results.
"Even after the government recently released official figures for income tax in 2012-13 which prompted a lively debate about the extent of tax evasion with commentators noting that there were very few returns at the highest end of income spectrum," Piketty had told International media, Ansari said.
"Data was too thin to draw significant conclusions about the level of inequality in India," the Vice President said quoting Piketty.
Bihar Governor Ram Nath Kovind and Chief Minister Nitish Kumar attended the seminar organised on the occasion of silver jubilee celebrations of Asian Development Research Institute (ADRI).
UNICEF representative to India Louis Georges Arsenault, Vice Chancellor of Nalanda International University Gopa Sabharwal and Deputy Director of Bihar Programme of Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Usha Kiran Tarigopula were also present.
The criticism of India's publically collected social statistics is not limited to foreign workers, Ansari said.
"In July 2011, the Governor of the Reserve Bank of India expressed concern over the quality of statistics collected by government agencies," he said to drive home the point.
A few months later, the then Commerce Secretary admitted India's exports figures for April-October period in 2011 were found to be inflated by USD 9.4 billion due to "misclassification" of certain items and data entry errors, the Vice President said.
Not long afterwards, the chief Statistician conceded that the accuracy of the index of Industrial Production was "questionable". Similarly, the then Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission argued that National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) had underestimated household consumption affecting poverty estimates, Ansari said.
He said challenge is of getting credible and complete data and in good time for better policy planning.
"Given the fast pace of changes in the structure of the economy in face of deregulation, liberalisation and competition, it is important that various indices that reveal the underlying mechanism of our society and economy are further refined and updated in order to provide relevant and timely information to the policymakers," he emphasised.
"False data or its wrong interpretation can result in market volatility, which can have a cascading effect on the economy. We, therefore, have to focus on maintaining certain data standards and improving the quality of our training and statistic education," Ansari underlined.
Stating that doubts have been raised on the quality of data, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar flayed the central government for not making caste census public.
"It is not an issue of caste and casteism, publication of socio-economic caste census would reveal the real condition of socio-economic status of different castes," he said.
The Bihar CM also raised question on measuring poverty in terms of calories and income and made a strong case that it should be measured on multi-dimensional criteria.
Kumar said data helps formulate policy.
"The prevalent data that 12.5 per cent of children in the age group of 6-14 were out of school in Bihar helped us draw focused programme to bring it down to below 1 per cent now. Similarly, the data showing fertility rate in Bihar at 3.9 helped draw policy to lower it," Kumar said.
Governor Ram Nath Kovind also stressed on the need for authentic data to chalk out comprehensive government programmes.