KOLKATA, MARCH 15: Scores of economists and social scientists from across the world have spoken out against a tendency to suppress uncomfortable data in India, seeking to restore access and integrity to public statistics and re-establish institutional independence to statistical organisations.
“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,” says an appeal signed by 108 academics.
The appeal has been endorsed by some of the most respected economists and statisticians, including Abhijit Banerjee of MIT, Jean Dreze of Allahabad University and Pranab Bardhan of UC Berkeley.
The statement comes at a time the debate over jobs – and the statistical haze shrouding related data – has managed to remain an issue in the run-up to the general election in spite of attempts to whip up emotive issues like muscular nationalism.
In end-January, the Acting Chairman of the National Statistical Commission (NSC), a Government-funded advisory body, had resigned in protest against a delay in releasing employment data. Information leaked later suggested the unemployment rate in the country in the year ending June 2018 rose to 6.1%, the highest level in at least 45 years.
The authors of the appeal have steered clear of partisan politics and have said the statement is addressed to both current as well as future government authorities.
They have also appealed to professional economists, statisticians and independent researchers in policy to close ranks regardless of their political and ideological leanings and raise their voice.
The appeal underscored a significant – and disturbing – change on the statistical landscape, which has never been seen before.
“For decades, 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. It was often criticised for the quality of its estimates, but never were allegations made of political interference influencing decisions and the estimates themselves,” the appeal says.
Then it points out: “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 national and global reputation of India’s statistical bodies is at stake.”
The statement provides an illustrative list, detailing some of the steps that have “caused great damage to the institutional integrity of autonomous statistical bodies”.
The appeal underscores why statistical integrity is indispensable. “Statistical integrity is crucial for generating data that would feed into economic policy-making and that would make for honest and democratic public discourse,” it adds. (Courtesy: TT)