Now India’s official statistics will be suspect
The Narendra Modi-led government has done it again. The Centre has scrapped the all-India survey on household consumption expenditure conducted by the then National Sample Survey Office. A few months ago, the government had refused to make public the official survey conducted on employment in India. There was considerable pressure exerted by economists and statisticians — 108 reputed academics signed a petition to get the document officially released — and, finally, the government did make it public but only after the general elections were over and Mr Modi had come back to power for a second term. This time too, more than 200 economists and statisticians have signed a petition requesting the government to release the survey report. The information about the results of the survey that were leaked to the press showed that for the first time in more than four decades, consumption expenditure had actually fallen with an increase in poverty and a dip in food consumption by the poor. There has been no external shock that could be the cause of this worsening state of affairs. Moreover, the data (leaked from the report) do not match with the macroeconomic data on national income. The government must understand that this kind of arbitrary refusal to face up to economic problems will tarnish India’s reputation as an economy and a democracy as well as its sense of values.
India is the nation where modern statistics was founded by scholars like P.C. Mahalanobis. India’s official statistics were always considered to be transparent and all assumptions about methodology and estimates were clearly understood by the international community. It is China’s statistics that have always been suspect and prone to official manipulation. Now, India’s official statistics will also be suspect. The government’s arbitrary show of authority to discredit anything it finds unpalatable reveals how fragile Indian democracy has become. Is it increasingly taking the shape of an authoritarian State? It appears that the government has the supreme power to do anything it likes. There is a moral dimension to this kind of intervention. It reflects a lack of honesty about the government’s self-image. The denial of the truth will result in the original problem — the lack of demand, in this case — remaining unaddressed. The economy, consequently, will continue to languish. The Centre must deal with real problems and find tangible solutions. Fear is never the master key that can lead to the unlocking of any problem.