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GDP data revision: Niti's role raises eyebrows; some feel it was best avoided

Press Trust of India  |  New Delhi 

With eyebrows being raised over the involvement of the Aayog in releasing revised GDP data for the era, some in the government feel the controversy could have been totally avoided by keeping the think tank out of the announcement.

The Aayog had Wednesday hosted a conference by its and Chief Pravin Srivastava to announce the so-called back-series data.

The new numbers show India's economic growth rate averaged 6.7 per cent during the Congress-led regime as compared to 7.3 per cent under the present government. Previous numbers had put the average growth rate during the 10-year rule at 7.75 per cent.

While the government has maintained that the - the agency responsible for the number crunching - is an independent agency, a joint press conference by Kumar and Srivastava raised eyebrows, including by former minister P Chidambaram.

A top source in the government said the controversy could have been avoided by keeping out the Aayog from the announcement press conference.

He believed that the Niti Aayog had no role in calculating the GDP numbers, which was the job of CSO. The announcement too should have been left to the CSO alone.

Chidambaram called the revision a "hatchet job" by the Niti Aayog, while former chief questioned the involvement of the Aayog.

Minister on his part defended the revision saying the CSO was a "highly credible organisation" that "maintains an arm's length distance from ministry".

To those criticising the numbers, he said: "I don't think any service is being rendered by people who choose to discredit a highly credible organisation like the CSO because its data is based on facts and the revised formulations which is a continuous exercise because every time you try and improve upon the formulations to make them more of the real state of economy".

Opposition Congress, however, found the revision odd.

"Now, that Niti Aayog has done the hatchet job, it is time to wind up the utterly worthless body," Chidambaram had tweeted Wednesday night. "The earlier numbers were calculated by the Has the Commission been disbanded?"

Former Chief Pronab Sen, he said, is absolutely correct. "Niti Aayog has nothing to do with tabulation of data".

"I wonder if Niti Aayog will agree to a debate the data than telling journalists that their questions are 'undeserving of an answer'," he had tweeted.

Speaking to PTI, Sen said the "integrity of CSO has been dented in the eyes of users".

"We have always had a system that data CSO brings out is completely removed from the political interference. Even the would get to know of the numbers just before they are released. Now to do that alongside Niti Aayog, which is a political institution like the (previous) was, is essentially diluting the integrity of the CSO," he added.

When a political institution releases national statistical data, it puts a huge question mark on the credibility of the data and the political independence of the statistical agencies, Sen noted.

"The credibility of CSO has been badly dented, not because of the data but because of the manner in which the release has been done," he said.

Sen, however, said he could not comment on the numbers as the statement put out "does not give me a feel for methodology" adopted in calculations.

Just months before the general elections, the country's economic growth rate during the previous Congress-led UPA regime was lowered Wednesday, shaving off over 1 percentage point from the only year when posted double-digit GDP growth post liberalisation and from each of the three years with 9-plus per cent expansion.

Recalibrating data of past years using 2011-12 as the base year instead of 2004-05, the CSO estimated that India's GDP grew by 8.5 per cent in the financial year 2010-11 (April 2010 to March 2011) and not at 10.3 per cent as previously estimated.

Similarly, 9.3 per cent growth rate each in 2005-06 and 2006-07 was lowered to 7.9 per cent and 8.1 per cent, respectively, while 7.7 per cent rate was now estimated for 2007-08 instead of 9.8 per cent.

This was done after disregarding an August discussion paper by the -- the autonomous body that helps in collection of data by India's statistical agencies -- calculating the back series that put the growth in the UPA years using the new base year at much higher than previous figures had shown, breaching even the 10 per cent mark in two years. This was hurriedly rejected by the government as being inaccurate and a draft for seeking comments.

"The revised 'New Series' computed by the ministry of statistics/Niti Aayog has completely undermined the NSC (National Statistical Commission), the autonomous body for deciding data transparently," said.

In January 2015, the government moved to a new base year of 2011-12 from the earlier 2004-05 for national accounts. The base year of national accounts had been revised earlier in January 2010.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Thu, November 29 2018. 14:40 IST