India's Statistical System Debates: Beyond Surveys, Emphasizing Data Quality

India's Statistical System Debates: Beyond Surveys, Emphasizing Data Quality
Posted on 01-08-2023

India's Statistical System Debates: Beyond Surveys, Emphasizing Data Quality and Modernization

Amidst ongoing debates on India's statistical system, a member of the PM's Economic Advisory Council raised concerns about the reliance on household sample surveys, suggesting that they systematically underestimate the country's development. While this argument has drawn criticism, it highlights the need to address critical issues in the national data collection process.

Arguments by the Member of PM's EAM: Over Dependency on Surveys of Households

Indian policymakers often base their decisions on estimates derived from household sample surveys. These surveys, such as the National Sample Survey (NSS), provide data on various aspects like household consumption expenditure, disability estimates, domestic tourism, health, employment, and more. However, there are concerns regarding the non-frequent nature of some surveys and outdated sampling frames, leading to an underestimation of India's true economic progress. The member suggests that policies formulated using these misleading estimates may not yield the desired results.

Issues Highlighted by the Member of PM's EAM

  1. Outdated Sampling Frames: The surveys employ outdated sampling methods that are not well-suited for capturing rapid changes in the country's dynamics.

  2. Overestimation of Rural Population: Surveys conducted post-2011, based on the Census 2011, significantly overestimate the proportion of the rural population, leading to lower national averages and an underestimation of urban progress.

Response to the Arguments Raised by the Member of PM's EAM

The criticism put forward by the member of PM's EAM mainly revolves around the overestimation of the rural population in these surveys, leading to skewed estimates. While this criticism highlights a genuine concern, the comparison should be done carefully and among equals.

Important Points Amidst This Debate on India's Statistical System

  1. Acceptance of Existing Problems: India should acknowledge the flaws in the statistical system and work towards fixing them rather than defending the status quo.

  2. Expansion of Data Resources: The national statistical system must incorporate new sources like Big Data, machine learning, and artificial intelligence to supplement conventional data sources. Standardization and data validation methodologies for these new datasets are crucial.

  3. Strengthening State Statistical Systems: The national system's strength depends on strong state statistical systems. Efforts like the Dholakia Committee Report 2020 and India Statistical Strengthening Project can help enhance data collection capacities at the state and district levels.

  4. Learning from Weather Predictions: Similar to advancements in weather forecasting, investing in data collection infrastructure and human resources is vital for improving statistical predictions.

  5. Sustained Growth in Resources: Continuous investment in the national statistical system is essential for achieving India's economic goals.

Way Forward

Efforts must be made to improve inter-agency coordination at both national and state levels. Finalizing the National Policy on Official Statistics, prioritizing data quality, and emphasizing modernization are crucial steps towards tracking India's progress effectively and maintaining its international statistical standing.


India's dynamic economy requires an efficient and modern statistical system. It is imperative to prioritize data quality, update methodologies, and invest in resources to ensure accurate and representative data that supports informed policymaking and contributes to the nation's growth.

Thank You