Almost a month after the NSSO data on unemployment was rejected by the government, expressing concerns over rampant political interference in data estimation,108 economists and social scientists on Thursday(March 14) called for the restoration of “institutional independence” and integrity of statistical organisations.
This appeal comes against the backdrop of controversy over the revision of gross domestic product (GDP) numbers and withholding employment data by the NSSO.
In their appeal both social scientists and economists highlighted the fact that until recently, India’s statistical machinery enjoyed a high-level of reputation for the integrity of the data it produced on a range of economic and social parameters.
The statistical machinery was often criticised for the quality of its estimates, but never were allegations made of political interference influencing decisions and the estimates themselves they said in an appeal.
The signatories include Rakesh Basant (IIM-A), James Boyce (University of Massachusetts at Amherst, US), Emily Breza (Harvard University, US), Satish Deshpande (Delhi University), Patrick Francois (University of British Columbia, Canada), R Ramakumar (TISS, Mumbai), Hema Swaminathan (IIM-B) and Rohit Azad (JNU).
In their appeal, they have requested all professional economists, statisticians, and independent researchers to come together to raise their voice against the tendency “to suppress uncomfortable data” and impress upon the government to restore access and integrity to public statistics and re-establish institutional independence.
Lately, the Indian statistics and the institutions associated with it have, however, come under a cloud for being influenced and indeed even controlled by political considerations the statement said.
The statement also expressed concern over the withholding of Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS) of NSSO and news reports that the PLFS of 2017-18 will be scrapped altogether by the government.
Two members of the National Statistical Commission (NSC), including the acting chairman, subsequently resigned because they felt the NSSO was delaying the release of the report, though the NSC itself had officially cleared it, they added.
The 108 experts, from across the globe, further said that in fact, 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.