There are lies, damned lies and statistics. In India, that may no longer be just a joke. Two more members of the National Statistical Commission (NSC) have resigned in protest against being kept in the dark on critical data. Murmurs grow that data are being withheld (especially on the 2017-18 job survey) or fudged (as with the GDP back series) to show the government in a fair light. India needs to establish itself as a place of strong, high-quality institutions that produce credible facts and figures. Instead, we are witnessing an erosion of institutional independence, worsening instead of improving our credibility.
When a new GDP series based on 2011-12 data came out, many searching questions were asked. Economists demanded backdating of the series to enable comparison with the old series. A Committee of the National Statistical Commission then came out with a back-series, which showed the UPA period to be much faster-growing than in the earlier series. The Congress party crowed while BJP sulked. The government declared that the committee’s data were only provisional: these showed exceptionally fast growth of services in the 2000s, which clearly needed detailed explanation or revision. Last December, at an event attended by the Niti Aayog chief Rajiv Kumar, the Central Statistical Organisation (CSO) announced a new, official back-series completely reversing the trend suggested by the NSC Committee. The new back-series showed GDP growth in the UPA era to be much slower than in the NDA era. Critics howled that it was daft for the CSO to produce data showing there was no real boom in the 2004-08 era, when every indicator — bank credit, industrial growth, exports, stock markets — showed a runaway boom.
A change in sectoral deflators — about which little is known yet — accounted for much of the change in outcomes. The NSC members should have been expected to throw light on this. Instead, they have been kept out of the loop, and have resigned because they are not being taken seriously. This is a sad day for institutional independence, and India’s credibility in the eyes of investors.
This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Economic Times.
via Damned lies, a joke or statistics?