ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Indian Statistical System at the Crossroads

The modernisation project was apparently the ultimate objective of the flurry of initiatives of the Department of Statistics (DoS). The paper in this part analyses the contents of the project and the philosophy, strategies and approach that shaped it, and brings out its serious implications for the Indian statistical system (ISS). The project is formulated with the short-term objective of meeting the requirements of Special Data Dissemination Standards (SDDS) of the IMF and for monitoring poverty. By design it does not address the problems and development of the ISS. Instead, it established the NSSs as an alternative system to ISS, and aims for a massive expansion of the NSSO and modernise its operations. The project covers only marginally the modernisation of other sub-systems, and where it does so it does not address the vital problem of collection of data and their quality. It requires the government of India to adopt measures that will centralise the statistical system of the country. The paper shows that the project, driven not by national needs but by international demands for data, and based on unjustified NSSO expansion, will lead to the neglect of ISS. The paper ends with broad suggestions for reformulation of the project, and a call to state governments to set their statistical house in order and to beware of the emerging tendencies to centralise the ISS.

Indian Statistical System at the Crossroads

The Indian statistical system (ISS) developed essentially as an administrative statistical system decentralised over the states. Since statistics are generated as by-products of administration, the system is the most economical and suitable for our vast country. However, over the last decade, the system of administrative statistics has been deteriorating at its very first stage of data collection due to ebbing efficiency of government administration at all levels, and has almost collapsed in certain important sectors. Since, for the most part, the state governments are responsible for the system, the remedy for its failure lies in exhorting and assisting the state governments to stem its deterioration and bring it back on tracks. The department of statistics (DoS) of government of India, however, viewed the situation differently, and under the pressure of meeting the requirements of Special Data Dissemination Standards (SDDS) of the IMF, engaged itself in a flurry of initiatives since 1998. The DoS perceived the lack of coordination and of modernisation as the major causes of the system's failures. It, therefore, attempted to create an institution endowed with regulatory powers in the field of statistics, and formulate, with World Bank assistance, a project to modernise the ISS. This paper, organised in three parts, attempts to analyse these initiatives, and to highlight their grave implications for the ISS. In this part, the paper gives the background of the development of the ISS, describes the problems it faces at present, and the approach to their resolution suggested by the National Statistical Commission. It discusses the vital issue of desirability of the decentralised structure of the ISS, and points to the adoption of certain modernisation measures that reinforce the emerging tendency to centralisation. Beginning the discussion of its main theme, the paper then critically examines the formal assessment of deficiencies of the ISS made by DoS's secretary, which formed the starting point of DoS's initiatives, and analyses the DoS's proposal for creation of the Statistical Authority in India.
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