The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Letters to Editor

Reconsidering the statistics

Sir — The report, “Lies, damn lies & Bengal statistics” (May 29), seems to be based on inadequate information and is misleading. The main purpose of the report is to cast an aspersion on the estimate of the high rate of growth of state domestic product exhibited by the West Bengal economy from the mid-Nineties till now.

The first insinuation is that the finance department of the state government manipulates the figures to project a high rate of SDP. The fact of the matter is that the estimation of SDP for West Bengal has been scrupulously carried out over the decades by the Bureau of Applied Economics and Statistics under the department of development and planning, government of West Bengal, and is based on the standard methodology framed for all the states by the Central Statistical Organization under the ministry of statistics, planning and programme implementation of the government of India. The estimates of SDP for West Bengal, as also for other states, are discussed for each sector and in every detail upto the worksheet level between the representatives of CSO and the BAE&S before the estimates are finalized. These estimates of SDP are then mentioned in the budget speech of the finance minister, West Bengal, with sectoral details published in the accompanying statistical appendix of Economic Review, including the status of each figure. There has been, over the years, no complaint, whatsoever, on these estimates for West Bengal from the all-India institutions concerned, such as CSO or the planning commission, government of India. In terms of the latest available data on these estimates, it is a fact, and no fudging as maligned in the report, that the rate of growth of SDP for West Bengal over the ninth plan period (1997-2002) has been 7.10 per cent which is not only much higher than the rate of growth of 5.46 per cent of gross domestic product of the country but is also higher (and not lower as mentioned in the report) than the rate of growth of SDP of 6.97 of Karnataka over the same period, with all the estimates being made at the usual constant prices.

The next question that has been raised in the report is: why is not then this higher rate of growth of SDP for West Bengal reflected in terms of higher per capita income for West Bengal in comparison with the all-India per capita income' In fact, it is because of this persistent higher rate of growth of West Bengal’s SDP that, despite the state having the largest population density, the per capita income of West Bengal at current prices, according to the latest data for 2002-03 published by CSO and BAE&S, has become Rs 19,416.23 which is higher than the per capita income of Rs 18,765.00 for India. The same relative position is also true for figures at constant prices. These latest figures have been overlooked in the report.

Another issue which has been highlighted in this report is: if the rate of growth of SDP in West Bengal is high, why is per capita investment in industry (presumably in the organized sector) in West Bengal lower than say, Karnataka' The fact, however, is otherwise. According to the generally accepted data published in December 2001 by the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy for the years 1999-2001 mentioned in the report, not only is the total investment for industrial projects completed in West Bengal (Rs 11,353 crore) much higher than that in Karnataka (Rs 5,190 crore), but even in per capita terms, with 2001 census population figures, the per capita industrial investment in West Bengal (Rs 1,415) is again much above the figures for Karnataka (Rs 984), thus refuting the allegation in the report. Apart from this relative progress in industrial investment in the organized sector, according to the National Sample Survey data (56th round) published by the NSSO, government of India, the number of functioning unorganized manufacturing enterprises in 2000-01 in West Bengal has become 27.71 lakh, which is the highest among all the states and is more than double the figure of 10.34 lakh for Karnataka. These facts have been mentioned in the recent budget speech (2003-04) of the finance minister of West Bengal and in the statistical appendix, but once again they have not been carefully read or been overlooked.

Doubts have been raised in the report about the growth in agriculture in West Bengal by mentioning that the data collection on agriculture has been politicized in the state. What seems to be less known here is that West Bengal is one of the few states where collection of agricultural production data has not been left only in the hands of the department of agriculture but, for purposes of objectivity, cross-checked with the crop-cutting data collected by the BAE&S and agricultural area by the department of land and land revenue. Not only have these data, but also those available from the planning commission have confirmed a high rate of growth of agricultural production in West Bengal in recent years. According to the data of the planning commission (2002), over the period from 1993-94 to 1999-2000, while all states’ average rate of growth of agricultural production has been 3.08 per cent, the average rate of growth of agricultural production in West Bengal has been 5.05, which is the highest among all the states, clearing once again the doubts raised.

The report has mentioned that the per capita consumption of power in West Bengal is less than that in Karnataka, but what it has forgotten to mention is that the rate of growth of this consumption in the Nineties, according to the data published by the CMIE (Energy) in May 2003, is much higher in West Bengal (4.6 per cent) than in Karnataka (3.1 per cent). Regarding the use of telephones, according to the CMIE data on infrastructure (February 2003), although the number of 19.73 lakh direct exchange lines (BSNL and MTNL) in West Bengal and Calcutta circles is marginally less than that in Karnataka circle (22.57 lakh), the annual rate of growth of use is higher at 51.7 per cent for West Bengal than 49.2 per cent for Karnataka.

In order to be analytically complete, it is the higher rate of growth of use of these items, which need to be correlated with higher rate of growth of SDP in West Bengal. Similarly, regarding the proportion of population below the poverty line, it should be mentioned that these proportions both in rural areas and for the state as a whole are falling at a sharp rate in West Bengal despite the highest population density in the state. In particular, mention should be made of the trend of this fall as recorded in the data published by the World Bank (“India, Reducing Poverty, Accelerating Development”), where the annual rate of decline in this proportion for the state has been found to be the sharpest (4.2 per cent) for West Bengal, with this proportion falling from 51.8 per cent in 1978 to 26 per cent in 1994.

A point has been raised regarding the low tax-SDP ratio in West Bengal. It needs mentioning here that the higher rate of growth of SDP in West Bengal has been caused significantly by a higher growth rate in agricultural production. But, agricultural commodities on the whole have remained relatively under-taxed in this state, explaining the persistence of a high rate of growth of SDP without a corresponding increase in the tax-SDP ratio. However, due to the additional tax efforts recently initiated, this ratio will start rising soon.

Finally, this report seems to provide, with doubtful ethics, an advice to the finance department that the state government should deliberately understate the rate of SDP in West Bengal in order to get more grants out of recommendations from national bodies like the finance commission. The government of West Bengal, however, chose to adopt a transparent method of projecting what is correctly a high growth of SDP, and reasoned with data its genuine financial problems, and could obtain out of the recommendations of the last eleventh finance commission a grant which is not only one of the highest among the states, but also significantly higher than all the states mentioned in the report.

Yours faithfully,
S.K. Das, director of information, government of West Bengal, information & cultural affairs department, Calcutta

The Telegraph replies:

There has been no insinuation that the West Bengal government cooks up SDP figures. Question marks have been raised about SDP figures for 2002-03. As anyone familiar with the Indian statistical system knows, national accounts figures continue to have question marks until final figures become available with a lag of two years. The advance CSO estimates for 2002-03 have also been questioned. Not just by The Telegraph, but by others. To jump to the conclusion that this represents insinuation, is unwarranted paranoia.

In similar vein, there is a suggestion that “latest estimates” have been ignored and attention has been drawn to West Bengal’s SDP growth over the ninth plan period. The ninth plan period means 1997-98 to 2002-03. As the West Bengal government should know, the CSO series so far ends with 2001-02. So we have no ninth plan estimates yet. For 1997-98 to 2001-02, the compounded annual SDP growth is 9.8 per cent for Karnataka and 6.6 per cent for West Bengal. The report of course refers to the mid-Nineties to now, and not specifically to the ninth plan. From 1993-94 to 2000-01, the compound annual SDP growth is 4.4 per cent for West Bengal and 7.9 per cent for Karnataka.

Per capita income requires SDP as well as population estimates. None are yet available for 2002-03. What are available are projections based on past extrapolation. Media will therefore comment on 2002-03 per capita income figures when these actually become available, and refrain from commenting on projections.

The West Bengal government makes much of faster improvements, especially in comparison with Karnataka. Facts speak for themselves. In 1993-94, Karnataka’s poverty ration (head count ratio) was 33.14 per cent, and West Bengal’s was 35.66 per cent. In 1999-2000, Karnataka’s poverty ratio was 20.04 per cent, and West Bengal’s was 27.02 per cent. No one has suggested that there has been no decline in West Bengal. But it is impossible to buy the argument that the decline in West Bengal has been faster than in Karnataka.

Between 1993-94 and 1999-2000, employment growth in West Bengal has been 0.41 per cent a year. In Karnataka, it has been 1.43 per cent a year. From 1993-94 to 1999-2000, the unemployment rate in Karnataka dropped from 4.94 per cent to 4.57 per cent. In West Bengal, it increased from 10.06 per cent to 14.99 per cent. Take the gross enrolment rate for classes I to VIII. It is 98.41 in Karnataka and 86.00 in West Bengal. Sorry. It is impossible to accept the argument that West Bengal had done better than Karnataka.

The West Bengal government makes much of the number of unorganized manufacturing enterprises, without mentioning how many of these are sick (most are) and fails to mention that West Bengal is behind Karnataka in the factory sector (number of factories as well as factory employment). Let us not even mention man-days lost in disputes.

By all means, let there be a debate. But let us get the facts right. The West Bengal government’s response shows arbitrary selection, that too, imperfectly done. One quote will illustrate the point. On poverty ratios, the quote is, “With this proportion falling from 51.8 per cent in 1978 to 26 per cent in 1994”. What do we make of this' As the information and cultural affairs department should know, poverty data come from NSS surveys. The year 1978 actually means 1977-78, and 1994 actually means 1993-94. The government should have been more accurate. But let that pass. West Bengal’s poverty ratio was 35.66 per cent in 1993-94 and 27.02 per cent in 1999-2000. So what does West Bengal government mean by 26 per cent in 1994' We didn’t make any insinuations earlier. But now it does seem that there is a lot of disinformation by the information department.

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