A group of 108 economists and social scientists on Thursday questioned the credibility of India’s official data.
The economists, from top Indian and foreign institutes, also called upon their colleagues from across the ideological spectrum to impress upon the government, irrespective of the party in power, “to restore access and integrity to public statistics, and re-establish institutional independence and integrity to the statistical organisations”.
In an official statement, the economists said :
“The national and global reputation of India’s statistical bodies is at stake. More than that, statistical integrity is crucial for generating data that would feed into economic policy-making and that would make for honest and democratic public discourse.”
The economists from institutions ranging from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of California, Berkeley and Harvard University to Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi University and the Indian Statistical Institute, wrote in their appeal:
“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,” they added.
“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 signatories include prominent economists and social scientists like Abhijit Banerjee, Pranab Bardhan, Jean Dreze, James Boyce, Jayati Ghosh, Amartya Lahiri, Sudha Narayanan, Ashima Sood, Jayan Jose Thomas, Vamsi Vakulabharanam and others.
Back series data
Further, they said that the treatment of the back series data, and the involvement of the NITI Aayog in the process did “great damage to the institutional integrity of the autonomous statistical bodies”. Finally, they cited the controversy surrounding the employment data that erupted recently. “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,” they said.
“This is the time for all professional economists, statisticians, independent researchers in policy — regardless of their political and ideological leanings — to come together to raise their voice against the tendency to suppress uncomfortable data, and impress upon the government authorities, current and future, and at all levels, to restore access and integrity to public statistics, and re-establish institutional independence and integrity to the statistical organisations.”
The national and global reputation of India’s statistical bodies is at stake, the economists concluded.
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