New Delhi: A group of 108 economists and social scientists came together Thursday to protest against what they said was the Narendra Modi government’s move to revise or withhold the release of unfavourable economic data.
The NDA government has been under fire for its decision to withhold the release of the National Sample Survey Organisation’s employment survey for the year 2017-18, despite the nod of the National Statistical Commission (NSC). The survey would have shown a record high unemployment rate, but the government said the jobs data had not been finalised.
The government has also been criticised for its new back series GDP data that drastically lowered growth rates during the regime of the previous UPA government. The numbers released by the NITI Aayog were in complete divergence from the numbers arrived at by a sub-committee of the NSC.
The NSC has the final say on all such economic data, but was allegedly bypassed at least twice by the government, resulting in the resignation of its only two remaining independent members, including chairperson P.C. Mohanan.
“…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 economists said in a joint statement.
They added that political considerations are now dominating public releases, and batted for restoring integrity and access to public economic data.
“The national and global reputation of India’s statistical bodies is at stake. More than that, statistical integrity is crucial for generating data that would feed into economic policy-making, and that would make for honest and democratic public discourse,” the economists said, advocating greater autonomy for institutions like the NSC.
The economists who signed the statement include Abhijit Sen, Himanshu, Jayati Ghosh and C.P. Chandrasekhar of Jawaharlal Nehru University, R. Nagaraj of the Indira Gandhi Institute of Development and Research, Jean Dreze of Allahabad University and Abhijit Banerjee of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Speaking about the political influence on data in recent times, the economists pointed out the anomalies with the GDP back series data.
“In 2018, two competing back series for varying lengths of time were prepared – separately by two official bodies, (a committee of) the National Statistical Commission and later by the Central Statistics Office. The two showed quite opposite growth rates for the last decade,” they said, pointing out that the NSC numbers “were removed from the official web site and the CSO numbers were later presented to the public by the Niti Aayog, an advisory body which had hitherto no expertise in statistical data collection”.
“All this caused great damage to the institutional integrity of the autonomous statistical bodies,” the statement read.
On jobs data, the statement pointed out that the NSSO data’s release was withheld and the release schedule not met despite approval by the NSC.
Read the full statement and the list of scholars who have signed it here.