Business Today

Need To Ring Fence CSO

There is a heated debate in the country not only about how the economy is performing but also the credibility of numbers that measure economic progress. Right from gross domestic product (GDP) data to unemployment numbers, everything is under scrutiny. At times, even the government has rejected the data such as the Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS), which apparently did not paint a good picture of the jobs scenario put out by the Central Statistics Office (CSO).

To discuss the issue of data credibility, Business Today organised a roundtable that was attended by Pronab Sen, former Chief Statistician of India; P. Mohanan, former Acting Chairperson of the National Statistical Commission (NSC) who quit after the government refused to publish the PLFS data; Sudipto Mundle, Professor, National Institute of Public Finance and Policy and former acting chairperson of the NSC; Mahesh Vyas, Managing Director and CEO of Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy; and Laveesh Bhandari, an economist and a data scientist. The roundtable was moderated by Prosenjit Datta, Editor, Business Today, and Rajeev Dubey, Editor, BusinessToday.In.

Prosenjit Datta: Till five years ago, we would have taken any government data on the economy. But over the last three or four years, the grounds have been muddied because of various controversies, and we do not know exactly what is going on. Mr Mohanan, since you were the last to resign over data related controversies, tell us how should we treat government data?

I would not go to the extent of saying all government data is suspect. I have been part of the government statistical system my entire life. Almost all data generating systems have external committees to check accuracy. That system has been very strong in the past, especially the governing council that looks into the NSSO data. Nobody would raise questions about the NSSO data. It is only in recent times that we are seeing a lot of media and public interest in these figures. To that extent, the system has to change and become transparent. The idea of trying to get figures the

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