A Standing Statistics Committee will review the framework and results of all surveys conducted under the aegis of the National Statistics Office. File Artwork: Sebastien Francis
The government has introduced a new internal control mechanism for official data, revamping a Standing Committee on Economic Statistics (SCES) set up in late 2019, shortly after the findings of the latest round of household expenditure surveys consumption and employment were dismissed, citing ‘data quality issues’.
In an order issued last Thursday, the Department of Statistics said that the SCES – which was responsible for reviewing only economic indicators – 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 Statistics Office (ONS).
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Pronab Sen, India’s first chief statistician and former chairman of the National Statistical Commission (NSC), has been named chairman of the new committee.
“System overhaul needed”
The SCoS — with “enhanced terms of reference” vis-à-vis the SCES, “to ensure greater coverage” — has 10 official members and four unofficial members who are eminent scholars. The panel can have up to 16 members as per the order issued by the Ministry of Statistics and Program Implementation (MoSPI).
The development is gaining momentum amid harsh criticism of India’s statistical apparatus by members of the Prime Minister’s Economic Advisory Council, including its chairman Bibek Debroy. He had proposed an overhaul of the system and claimed India’s statistical service had “little expertise in designing surveys”.
“The mandate of the SCES was coming to an end anyway, so it was decided to broaden the mandate of the committee beyond economic data and to advise the ministry on the technical aspects of all investigations, such as the basis of survey, design, survey methodology and finalization of results,” an official said.
Filling data gaps
In addition to addressing questions raised from time to time on the subject, results and methodology of all surveys, the SCoS’s mandate includes identifying data gaps that need to be filled by official statistics, as well as appropriate strategy to fill these gaps. . He was also commissioned to explore the use of administrative statistics to improve data outcomes.
While the panel will help finalize the results of the survey, the NSC will have the ultimate authority to approve the release of those results. The government had reconstituted the NSC last December, appointing Rajeeva Laxman Karandikar, professor emeritus at the Chennai Mathematical Institute, as part-time president. Although 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 unofficial members, was also chaired by Mr. Sen. The committee’s mandate was to review the framework of economic indicators relating to the industrial sector, the service sector and labor force statistics. This meant that their scope was limited to data sets such as the periodic labor force survey, the annual industrial survey, the index of industrial production and the economic census.