The government has constituted a new internal oversight mechanism for official data, revamping a Standing Committee on Economic Statistics (SCES) set up in late 2019, soon after the findings from the last round of household surveys on consumption expenditure and employment were junked, citing ‘data quality issues’.
In an order issued last Thursday, the Statistics Ministry said that the SCES — which was tasked with examining economic indicators only — will now be replaced by a Standing Committee on Statistics (SCoS) which has a broader mandate to review the framework and results of all surveys conducted under the aegis of the National Statistical Office (NSO).
Pronab Sen, India’s first chief statistician and the former chairman of the National Statistical Commission (NSC), has been named the chair of the new committee.
‘System overhaul needed’
The SCoS — with “enhanced terms of reference” vis-à-vis the SCES, “to ensure more coverage” — has 10 official members, and four non-official members who are eminent academics. The panel can have up to 16 members, as per the order issued by the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation (MoSPI).
The development assumes significance amid sharp critiques of India’s statistical machinery by members of the Economic Advisory Council to the Prime Minister, including its chairperson Bibek Debroy. He had mooted an overhaul of the system and contended that the Indian Statistical Service has “little expertise in survey design”.
“The term of the SCES was coming to an end in any case, so it was decided to expand the committee’s mandate beyond economic data and advise the Ministry on technical aspects for all surveys, such as sampling frame, design, survey methodology and finalisation of results,” an official said.
Plugging data gaps
Apart from addressing issues raised from time to time on the subject, results and methodology for all surveys, the SCoS’ terms of reference include the identification of data gaps that need to be filled by official statistics, along with an appropriate strategy to plug those gaps. It has also been mandated to explore the use of administrative statistics to improve data outcomes.
While the panel will help finalise survey results, the NSC will have the ultimate authority to approve the publication of those results. The government had reconstituted the NSC last December, appointing Rajeeva Laxman Karandikar, Professor Emeritus at the Chennai Mathematical Institute, as its part-time chairperson. While the NSC still has two vacancies, the appointments of Mr. Karandikar and two other part-time members were notified on May 30 this year.
The SCES, which had 28 members, including 10 non-official members, was also chaired by Mr. Sen. The panel was mandated to review the framework for economic indicators pertaining to the industrial sector, the services sector and the labour force statistics. This meant that their purview was limited to datasets like the Periodic Labour Force Survey, the Annual Survey of Industries, the Index of Industrial Production and the Economic Census.