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More than 200 scholars ask govt to release Consumer Expenditure Survey data

The statement comes in light of the Modi government recently saying that it will not be releasing the Survey of Consumer Expenditure, 2017-18 because of "data quality" issues

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A group of 214 scholars, largely economists, working around the world have written an open letter asking the Centre to release all reports and data from the National Sample Survey Office that have been internally approved.

The statement comes in light of the Modi government recently saying that it will not be releasing the Survey of Consumer Expenditure, 2017-18 because of “data quality” issues. A leaked version of the report shows that it paints a rather unflattering picture of India’s economy, which the government may not want to have in the public domain.

The leaked National Statistical Office (NSO) survey, titled ‘Key Indicators: Household Consumer Expenditure in India’, reportedly shows that the average amount of money spent by an Indian in a month fell by 3.7% to Rs 1,446 in 2017-18 from Rs 1,501 in 2011-12.

The statement is signed by renowned economists including Nobel laureate Angus Deaton, Thomas Piketty, Prabhat Patnaik, Barbara Harris-White, Ashwini Deshpande, Jayati Ghosh and others. They have said that the Centre has “repeatedly shown its disinclination to make public any information that may show its own performance in a poor light” and urged the government to release all data “without delay and irrespective of what the results are”.

The full text of the statement and list of signatories is reproduced below.

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We the undersigned demand that the Government of India releases the report and data of all NSSO Surveys that have been completed and approved by the NSSO’s internal systems, including the results of the 75th round Survey of Consumer Expenditure, 2017-18.

A media leak published in Business Standard has revealed that the 2017-18 Consumer Expenditure Survey shows a sharp decline in average consumption. It has been suggested that the survey results are not being released because they support other evidence that the economy is experiencing a downturn. The Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation has now announced that the results of the survey will not be released at all, because they show a higher divergence with the “administrative data” than for earlier surveys.

It should be noted that consumption surveys are known to give results that diverge from macroeconomic estimates of the National Accounts. Also, National Accounts estimates are based not only on administrative data but on a combination of sources including NSSO and other surveys. Several committees have looked into these discrepancies. While further work can be done to identify sources of and reduce these discrepancies, the common understanding has been that the flaws lie as much in the methods deployed for arriving at macroeconomic estimates as they do in surveys.

Consumption surveys are crucial for monitoring trends in poverty and inequality, and are also of critical value for national income accounting, and for updating macro-economic data such as price indices. They can provide an important check on administrative and macroeconomic data, which is important both for policy makers and the general public. The fact that data on supply of goods and household consumption are diverging points to the need for questioning supply side data (which are being widely questioned within and outside India) as much as it points to the continuing need for improving survey methods.

It is of fundamental importance for the nation that statistical institutions are kept independent of political interference, and are allowed to release all data independently. The record of the present government on this score has been very poor. Until recently, India has good cause to be proud of its statistical system, and the sample surveys conducted by the NSSO have served as a shining example and a model to the rest of the world.

While there has been much discussion and debate about the methodology of the surveys, these have been scientific and technical in nature, devoted to trying to improve the system to enable better measures of crucial indicators.

However, this government has chosen to attack the credibility of this pre-eminent statistical institution simply because the results of the surveys do not accord with its own narrative about the economy, without providing any adequate reasons, and by misrepresenting essential features of the surveys. It has repeatedly shown its disinclination to make public any information that may show its own performance in a poor light. Last year, before the parliamentary elections, the results of the Periodic Labour Force Survey were not allowed to be released until the parliamentary elections were over, despite the resignation of two members of the National Statistical Commission, and a leak in the media. Subsequently, results of other surveys including the 75th round (Consumer Expenditure), 76th round (Drinking water, Sanitation, Hygiene, and Housing Conditions) and more recent quarterly data of the PLFS surveys, have not been released.

This suppression of essential data is terrible for accountability and for ensuring that citizens have the benefit of official data collection that is paid for with their taxes. It is also counterproductive for the government, which may be kept in the dark about actual trends in the economy and therefore not be able to devise appropriate policies. Undermining the objectivity and credibility of an independent statistical system is fundamentally against the national interest.

In the interest of transparency and accountability, all data must be released without delay and irrespective of what the results are. The government may wish to defend itself against interpretations of the statistics that it disagrees with. But this is best done through technical papers and seminars. To prevent release of data that are adverse, and diverge from its own understanding, is neither transparent nor technically sound.

Indeed, in order to produce transparent and robust information on distribution, it is also important for the government to grant researchers access to (anonymous) tax microfiles.

We therefore demand that the government should immediately release the report and unit-level data of the 75th Consumer Expenditure Survey. The government should also commit to release all other survey data after the usual processes to check for possible errors have been concluded.

Signed

  1. A Vaidyanathan, Former Member, Planning Commission
  2. A K Shiva Kumar, Ashoka University
  3. A V Jose, Visiting Fellow, CDS, Thiruvananthapuram
  4. Abhijit Sen, former Member, Planning Commission
  5. Abhirup Sarkar, ISI Kolkata
  6. Achin Chakraborty, IDS, Kolkata
  7. Aditya Bhattacharjea, Delhi School of Economics
  8. Aijaz Ahmad, University of California, Irvine
  9. Ajit Zacharias, Levy Institute, Bard College, New York
  10. Alejo Julca, Independent researcher
  11. Alex M. Thomas, Azim Premji University
  12. Alicia Puyana, Flacso, Mexico City
  13. Alpa Shah, London School of Economics
  14. Aman Bardia, New School for Social Research, New York.
  15. Amit Basole, Azim Premji University
  16. Amit Bhaduri, Emeritus Professor, JNU
  17. Amitabha Bhattacharya
  18. Amiti Sen, Journalist
  19. Amiya Bagchi, Emeritus Professor, Institute of Development Studies Kolkata
  20. Anamitra Roychowdhury, JNU
  21. Andres Lazzarini, Goldsmiths University, London
  22. Angus Deaton, Princeton University
  23. Anita Dixit, Pratichi Institute
  24. Anjana Thampi, IWWAGE, New Delhi
  25. Anup Sinha Retired Professor of Economics IIM Calcutta
  26. Anwar Shaikh, New School for Social Research
  27. Arindam Banerjee, AUD, Delhi
  28. Arjun Jayadev, Azim Premji University
  29. Arthur MacEwan, University of Massachusetts Boston
  30. Ashok Kotwal, The University of British Columbia, Vancouver
  31. Ashwini Deshpande, Ashoka University
  32. Astha Ahuja, University of Delhi
  33. Atul Sood, JNU
  34. Atul Sarma, Visiting Professor, ISID, New Delhi
  35. Atulan Guha, IIM, Kashipur
  36. Ayushya Kaul, Jamia Millia Islamia
  37. Avinash Kumar, JNU
  38. Awanish Kumar, St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai
  39. B Srujana, Tricontinental Institute for Social Research
  40. Barbara Harriss-White, Emeritus Professor, Oxford University, and Emeritus Fellow of Wolfson College, Oxford
  41. Ben Fine, SOAS
  42. Bhanoji Rao, Governing Board Member, GITAM and IFHE Universities
  43. Bharat Ramaswami, ISI Delhi
  44. Bibhas Saha, Durham University
  45. Bindu Oberoi, University of Delhi
  46. Biswajit Dhar, JNU
  47. Byju, V, Thiruvananthapuram
  48. C P Chandrasekhar, Retired Professor, JNU
  49. C Saratchand, University of Delhi
  50. Carlo Cafiero, Senior Statistician, FAO
  51. Chalapati Rao KS, ISID, Delhi
  52. Chirashree Das Gupta, JNU
  53. Chris Baker, Editor, Siam Society
  54. Chrostophe Jeffrelot, Sciences Po and King’s College London
  55. D Narasimha Reddy, University of Hyderabad
  56. D Narayana, Former Director, Gulati Institute of Finance and Taxation
  57. Daniela Gabor, University of West England, Bristol
  58. David Kotz, Professor Emeritus, University of Massachusetts, Amherst
  59. Debabrata Pal, JNU
  60. Debraj Ray, New York University
  61. Deepak K Mishra, JNU
  62. Dev Nathan, Institute for Human Development
  63. Devaki Jain, ISST, New Delhi
  64. Devika Dutt, University of Massachusetts, Amherst
  65. Dilip Mookherjee, Boston University
  66. Dinesh Abrol, ISID, Delhi
  67. Dipa Sinha, AUD
  68. Dipankor Coondoo, Retired Professor, ISI
  69. Dipankar Dey, Dept of Business Management, Calcutta University
  70. Ahmet Tonak, University of Massachusetts, Amherst
  71. E Bijoykumar Singh, Manipur University
  72. Emanuele Citera, The New School For Social Research
  73. Farzana Afridi, ISI, Delhi
  74. Francesco Saraceno, Sciences Po
  75. Gaurav Khanna, University of California, San Diego
  76. Giovanni Andrea Cornia, University of Florence
  77. Hanjabam Isworchandra Sharma, Manipur University
  78. Haroon Akram-Lodhi, Trent University, Canada
  79. Hema Swaminathan, IIM Bangalore
  80. Himanshu, JNU
  81. Indra Nath Mukherji, JNU
  82. Indraneel Dasgupta, Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata
  83. Indranil Chowdhury, University of Delhi
  84. Indranil Mukhopadhyay, OP Jindal University
  85. Ingrid Kvangraven, York University
  86. Iqbal Singh, Akal University, Bathinda
  87. Ishan Anand, Ambedkar University, Delhi
  88. Ishita Mukhopadhyay, University of Calcutta
  89. Mohan Rao, University of Massachusetts at Amherst
  90. Jan Breman, University of Amsterdam
  91. Jan Kregel, Levy Institute
  92. Jason Hickel, Goldsmith College, London
  93. Jayan Jose Thomas, Economist, New Delhi
  94. Jayati Ghosh, JNU
  95. Jens Lerche, SOAS
  96. Jesim Pais, SSER
  97. John Harriss, Professor Emeritus, Simon Fraser University, Vancouver
  98. Jose Antonio Ocampo, Columbia University
  99. Joydeep Baruah, OKD Institute of Social Change and Development, Guwahati
  100. Kalyani Menon-Sen, Feminist Learning Partnerships
  101. Kathleen McAfee, San Francisco State University
  102. K J Joseph, Gulati Institute of Finance and Taxation
  103. K N Harilal, Member, Kerala State Planning Board
  104. K Nagaraj, Retired Professor, MIDS
  105. K P Kannan, Retired Professor, CDS
  106. K V Ramaswamy, IGIDR
  107. Kumarjit Mandal, University of Calcutta
  108. Kunibert Raffer, retired Associate Professor, University of Vienna
  109. Lawrence King, University of Massachusetts, Amherst
  110. Lucas Chancel, Co-Director, World Inequality Lab
  111. M S Bhatta, Retired Professor, Jamia Millia Islamia
  112. M S Sriram, Indian Institute of Management Bangalore
  113. M Vijayabaskar, MIDS
  114. Maitreesh Ghatak, LSE
  115. Mahalaya Chatterjee, Calcutta University
  116. Malabika Majumdar, Retd. Professor, University of Delhi
  117. Mandira Sarma, JNU
  118. Martin Ravallion, Georgetown University
  119. Mary E John, CWDS
  120. Mira Shiva, Public Health Physician
  121. Mridul Eapen, Member, Kerala State Planning Board
  122. Mritiunjoy Mohanty, IIM, Kolkata
  123. Mustafa Özer, Anadolu University
  124. Mwangi wa Githinji – University of Massachusetts, Amherst
  125. Nalini Nayak, SEWA, Kerala
  126. Naveed Ahmad, Department of higher education Jammu and Kashmir (cluster University Srinagar)
  127. Narender Thakur, University of Delhi
  128. Nisha Biswas, Scientist
  129. Nishith Prakash, University of Connecticut
  130. Nitin Sethi, Independent journalist
  131. Oliver Braunschweig, The New School for Social Research
  132. Padmini Swaminathan, independent researcher, Chennai
  133. Parthapratim Pal, IIM Calcutta
  134. Pasuk Phongpaichit, Professor, Faculty of Economics, Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok
  135. Prabhat Patnaik, Emeritus Professor, JNU
  136. Pranab Bardhan, University of California, Berkeley
  137. Pranab Kanti Basu, Retired Professor, Visva Bharati University
  138. Praveen Jha, JNU
  139. Priya Mukherjee, William & Mary, Virginia
  140. Pulin B Nayak, Retired Professor of Economics, Delhi School of Economics
  141. R Nagaraj, IGIDR
  142. R Ramakumar, TISS
  143. R V Ramana Murthy, University of Hyderabad
  144. Ragupathy, Goldsmiths University, London
  145. Rahul Roy, ISI, Delhi
  146. Rajah Rasiah, University of Malaya
  147. Rajesh Madan, Noida
  148. Rajeswari Sengupta, IGIDR
  149. Rajesh Bhattacharya, IIM, Kolkata
  150. Rajiv Jha, University of Delhi
  151. Rakesh Ranjan, University of Delhi
  152. Ramaa Vasudevan, Colorado State University
  153. Rammanohar Reddy, Editor, The India Forum, and Visiting Professor, Goa University
  154. Ranjan Ray, Monash University
  155. Ranjini Basu, Focus on the Global South
  156. Ratan Khasnabis, Adamas University, and Retired Professor, Calcutta University
  157. Ravindran Govindan, Laurie Baker Center for Habitat Studies, Trivandrum
  158. Ritu Dewan, Director (retd), Dept of Economics, University of Mumbai
  159. Rohit Azad, JNU
  160. Romar Correa, University of Mumbai
  161. Rosa Abraham, Azim Premji University
  162. Runa Sarkar, IIM Calcutta
  163. S Krithi, TISS, Hyderabad
  164. Sagari R Ramdas, Food Sovereignty Alliance
  165. Saikat Sinha Roy, Jadavpur University
  166. Samarjit Das, ISI, Kolkata
  167. Sanjay Reddy, The New School for Social Research
  168. Santosh Das, ISID, New Delhi
  169. Saradindu Bhaduri, JNU
  170. Sarmistha Pal, Surrey Business School
  171. Satish Deshpande, Delhi University
  172. Satyaki Roy, ISID, Delhi
  173. Saumyajit Bhattacharya, Delhi University
  174. Seema Kulkarni, SOPPECOM, Pune
  175. Servaas Storm, Delft University of Technology, Netherlands
  176. Shambhu Ghatak, Senior Associate Fellow, Inclusive Media for Change
  177. Shantanu De Roy, TERI University
  178. Shiney Chakraborty, ISST, New Delhi
  179. Shipra Nigam, Consultant Economist, New Delhi
  180. Shouvik Chakraborty, University of Massachusetts, Amherst
  181. Shyjan Davis, University of Calicut
  182. Siwan Anderson, Vancouver School of Economics, University of British Columbia, Vancouver
  183. Smita Gupta, Economist
  184. Smitha Francis, ISID, New Delhi
  185. Snehashish Bhattacharya, SAU
  186. Sona Mitra, IWWAGE, New Delhi
  187. Stefano Zambelli, Provincial University of Trento
  188. Suchetana Chattopadhyay, Jadavpur University.
  189. Subin Dennis, Tricontinental Institute for Social Research
  190. Sudhir Kumar Suthar, JNU
  191. Sudip Chaudhuri, IIM, Kolkata
  192. Sudipta Bhattacharyya, Visva Bharati
  193. Sujata Patel, NIS, Shimla
  194. Sukanta Bhattacharya, University of Calcutta
  195. Sushil Khanna, IIM, Kolkata
  196. Sripad Motiram, University of Massachusetts Boston
  197. Sunanda Sen, Retired Professor, JNU
  198. Surajit Das, JNU
  199. Surajit Mazumdar, JNU
  200. Suresh Aggarwal, Former Professor, Department of Business Economics, University of Delhi
  201. Suranjan Gupta, New Delhi
  202. T Sabri Öncü, Former Head of Research, CAFRAL
  203. Takahiro Sato, Kobe University
  204. Taposik Banerjee, Ambedkar University, Delhi
  205. Thomas Piketty, Paris School of Economics
  206. Upasak Das, University of Pennsylvania
  207. Utsa Patnaik, Emerita Professor, JNU
  208. Uttam Bhattacharya, Institute of Development Studies, Kolkata
  209. Vamsi Vakulabharanam, University of Massachusetts, Amherst
  210. Velupillai Kumaraswamy, former Professor, University of Trento and New School University
  211. Venkatesh B Athreya, Professor of Economics (Retired), Bharathidasan University
  212. Vikas Rawal, JNU
  213. Yogendra Yadav, Swaraj India, and former member, UGC
  214. Yoshifumi Usami, University of Tokyo

In an arrangement with The Wire

First Published: Thu, November 21 2019. 13:25 IST
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