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Economy

Government sets up new panel to overhaul economic statistics; Here's experts' take

Updated : December 30, 2019 05:25:44 IST

After facing questions over the credibility of official economic data, the government has decided to set up a 28-member panel to overhaul the system for reviewing economic statistics. The move comes just months after a group of 108 economists and social scientists wrote an open letter raising questions of political interference in statistics. They also appealed against what they called, "a tendency to suppress uncomfortable data."

Three people who were signatories to this letter have also been roped in to this panel. What’s more? The panel will be headed by Former Chief Statistician Dr Pronab sen, who has also been a vocal critic.

According to CNBC-TV18’s Latha Venkatesh, this could be also an independent decision because the composition of gross domestic product (GDP) is constantly changing, technology is disrupting, the old methods of collecting the data which was more tilted towards manufacturing whereas the large part of the output has been generated in services.

To discuss on the matter, Shereen Bhan and Latha Venkatesh was joined by Pronab Sen, Chairman of the Standing Committee on Economic Statistics, Hema Swaminathan, professor at IIM Bangalore and also a member of the SCES, PC Mohanan, former chairman at the National Statistical Commission and R Nagaraj, Professor at Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research.

Pronab Sen, chairman of the Standing Committee on Economic Statistics said: “If I simply look at what has happened, that all these working committees have been melded into this one standing committee. I would imagine that the principal function of this standing committee would be to integrate and coordinate between different forms of economic statistics."

"To see whether or not there are discrepancies in the definition or methodologies used and to - it is essentially cleaning up the source of the data and the way the data is collected. I don’t think it is so much about the data quality it is looking at the methodologies, looking at definitions, looking at whether or not there are overlaps, they are getting contradictions, issues of that kind.”

PC Mohanan said: “What is not clear to me is to whom will the committee report? The recommendations of the committee, who will accept the report or recommendations and how such a large committee can function on such a variety of surveys unless they make sub committees and split into smaller groups. So all these are likely to be - Dr Sen who will have to decide these things on how they are going to do it but my main concern is it is not very clear as to whom will they submit their recommendations and what is the role of NCS.”

Hema Swaminathan said: “I thought that the scope was a little unclear at first and also very broad and so I guess because it is so broad I wasn’t quite sure so I was really looking forward to the January 7th meeting to figure out what exactly we should be doing and I think there is fair representation from sort of different areas of expertise and different domains so my own sense was that maybe people have been called because each one represents a particular strength so we will have to see what  Professor Sen has in mind and will have to figure out a way to work together.”

R Nagaraj said: “What is not clear to me is what are the terms of reference of this committee, what is it expected to do. From what Sen said I can see that he probably looks at how the different datasets can be made to work together. Because, already to my knowledge there are working groups and standing committee for different sets of statistics like you have standing committee for industrial statistics, there is a separated standing committee or a working group for employment statistics so how this committee again consisting of a large number of people - 28 of them how will this work with the existing committee, it is not clear.”

Sen added: “The existing working committee groups and standing committees are essentially being disbanded and merged with this one. So, this particular committee is taking all of those responsibility.”
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