New Delhi: The government Thursday released a draft bill aimed at empowering the National Statistical Commission (NSC) to become the nodal body for all core statistics in the country.
Core statistics include national income statistics like GDP, jobs data, industry data and budgetary transactions data.
The National Statistical Commission Bill says the body will be constituted to “regulate, develop, and strengthen the official statistical system of the country in order to promote public confidence, ensuring timeliness and reliability and professionalism, adopting best statistical practices, achieving independence and integrity of official statistics…”
It also proposes that the NSC should have the RBI deputy governor and the chief economic adviser as members, besides a chairman, five full-time members and the chief statistician of India.
However, the government has sought to retain the final say, which may raise questions on the independence of the commission.
“The decision of the central government, whether a question is of policy or not, shall be final,” the draft bill states.
The NSC was envisaged as the empowered body for all core statistical activities — on the suggestion of a committee headed by former Reserve Bank of India governor C. Rangarajan. It was constituted in 2005 but never got any statutory powers to give it teeth.
Timing of the draft bill
The draft bill has been released at a time when the government has been facing criticism from several quarters over interference in the release of crucial data unfavourable to it. For example, the government withheld jobs data that showed the unemployment rate at a 45-year high, releasing it only six months later, after the general elections.
More recently, it also decided to junk the consumer expenditure data, which showed that consumption expenditure had contracted in rural areas, indicating a possible increase in poverty.
In the case of the jobs report, the data was withheld despite the fact that the NSC had approved the report for release. This resulted in the commission’s chairman and another member resigning in protest, putting the spotlight on the independence of the commission.
The Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation has sought suggestions from the public on the draft bill by 19 January.