Recent moves by the government of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to tweak the yardsticks used to arrive at statistical data related to gross domestic product and withhold unpleasant data are drawing flak.
A group of 108 economists and social scientists from various institutions in India and abroad have decried political interference in influencing such data and have called for the restoration of “institutional independence” and integrity to the statistical organizations, Press Trust of India reports.
The joint statement coincides with a controversy over the revision of GDP numbers and withholding employment data by the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO).
The group emphasized that the agencies associated with collection and dissemination of statistics such as the Central Statistics Office (CSO) and NSSO should not be subject to political interference and their work should merit total credibility.
Citing an instance of the CSO having revised upward GDP growth estimates for 2016-17 (the fiscal year of demonetization) by 1.1 percentage points to 8.2%, the highest in a decade, they said it was in variance with the evidence marshaled by many economists.
The group also highlighted the significant divergence in the estimates of back series GDP data by a committee appointed by the National Statistical Commission (NSC) and the CSO, and how the two showed opposite growth rates for the past decade.
They also pointed out that the first economy-wide employment Periodic Labor Force Survey (PLFS) conducted by the NSSO was delayed, prompting the resignation of the acting chairman and an NSC member.
The report, which was later leaked, said unemployment in India had risen to a 45-year high of more than 6% in fiscal 2017-18. The group even expressed concern that the government might scrap the PLFS data for 2017-18.
The 108 experts pointed out that any statistics that cast an iota of doubt on the achievement of the government seemed to get revised or suppressed on the basis of some questionable methodology.
They called on all professional economists, statisticians, and independent researchers in policy, regardless of their political and ideological leanings, to come together to raise their voice against the tendency to suppress uncomfortable data.
The signatories include Rakesh Basant (India Institute of Management – Ahmedabad), James Boyce (University of Massachusetts), Emily Breza (Harvard University), Satish Deshpande (Delhi University), Patrick Francois (University of British Columbia), R Ramakumar (Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai), Hema Swaminathan (Indian Institute of Management – Bangalore) and Rohit Azad (Jawaharlal Nehru University).