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Scale up & Revamp Statistical System to meet economic challenges

JULY 07, 2018

By TIOL Edit Team

THE Union Government did well to pick 'Quality Assurance in Official Statistics ' as theme for 12th Statistics Day celebrations that were organized on 29th June 2018.

The Government has been marking 29th June Statistics Day since 2007 as a tribute to Professor PC Mahalanob is, whose contribution to the fields of statistics, statistical system and economic planning including taxation is well known.

Quality, timeliness, adequacy and variety are crying need of the hour. The ground left uncovered by the official statistical systems is too vast. This is especially so in agriculture where data is either not generated for many crops or is simply estimated on the basis of statistics for related crops.

Investors also require comprehensive and up-to-date data to take the right call on making or putting off investments.

Moreover, without timely availability of crucial data at a frequency desired by different stakeholders of economy, the efficacy of policy, regulatory and market response to diverse socio-economic would also remain a grey area.

Labour Ministry, for instance, suffers delays and "non-response" in collection of statistics through annual returns filed by businesses under different labour laws. The latest published reports relate to data for 2014. As put by Ministry official, "there are concerns in respect of quality as well".

Similarly, Agriculture Ministry wants National Sample Survey Organization to collect and release data every five years and not 10 years as it does at present. All stakeholders have multiple concerns about data collection and dissemination.

Unfortunately, the Statistics Day celebrations, as in earlier years, did not result in a decisive & multi-facet Mission to totally overhaul the statistical system to meet the growing & dynamic needs of globalized economy.

This is in spite of the forceful articulation of the urgency for big boost to statistical system articulated so well by Task Force on Improving Employment Data that submitted its report in July 2017.

As put by the Task Force, "The government needs to recognize the importance of high-quality surveys and data for policy making and policy discussions. All well-functioning economies today rely on a variety of statistical analyses for policy making. It is time that the government brings about serious institutional changes and provides necessary financial resources to revamp out statistical systems".

Apart from TF, other committees/expert groups have made slew of recommendations to plug data gaps, improve quantity and quality of data over the years.The latest one being Committee on Financial Sector Statistics (CFSS) that submitted its report on 28th June 2018.

CFSS, which focussed on flow of funds (FoF) statistics, has also recommended slew of initiatives to improve FoF data, apart from identifying existing limitations including variations in data separately released by Central Statistical Organization (CSO) and Reserve Bank of India (RBI).

CFSS has suggested that "The CSO and the RBI may exchange notes before release of the national accounts and the FoF, to reconcile inconsistencies between the two sets of data".

In fact, coordination among different agencies to avoid overlapping of efforts and waste of resources has been recommended by different committees in the past too. Coordination would also enable different statistical agencies to avoid different data sets on the same subjects. Data variations and discrepancies should be avoided.

Coordination does not cost much. It just requires political will, both at the Centre and at the States, to prod agencies to cooperate and coordinate. This would go a long way in generate good sector-wise data.

The Government should also facilitate data sharing among different department and their arms to improve its interventions in the economy.

Here we need to appreciate Central Board of Excise and Customs (CBEC's) proposal for GST data sharing with official statistical agencies that undertake surveys.

The proposal was made at 25th Conference of Central and State Statistical Organizations (COCSSO) held during January 2018.

GST data has potential to give insight on grey areas. A case in point is data on

inter-state movement of goods. As noted a top official of Directorate General of Commercial Intelligence and Statistics at the same conference, "administrative data collected under GST framework through GSTR-1 and GSTR-2 returns may depict the overall picture of movement of goods".

The Government's existing efforts to strengthen statistical system especially at the State and district level are no doubt welcome but are not adequate. Similarly, the efforts to improve national statistics system are inadequate and disjointed.

India needs a mission approach to end problems in administrative statistical system that have been building over the years due to political neglect, inadequate funding and manpower shortages.

The least that the Government should do is to release a white paper on Official Statistical System, listing existing situation and the roadmap for improving the situation over a specified timeframe. The Government also ought to enhance fund allocations for ramping up operations of Central and State Statistical Organizations (CSSO).


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