Chief statistician to head NSO: Govt modifies restructuring order

Days after drawing flak, the Union government clarified on Thursday that the chief statistician will continue to be the reporting head of the statistical system which was restructured last month.

The Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation has partially modified its May 23 order to say that the newly-constituted National Statistical Office (NSO) will be headed by “chief statistician of India-cum-Secretary (Statistics and Programme Implementation).”

The previous order had mentioned the secretary of the MoSPI as the head of the NSO and had not mentioned the chief statistician anywhere, inviting criticism from some experts.

“This makes a lot of sense and is an important step. If you just say the secretary will head the body, it gives an impression that the government wants to have more control over an institutional body,” ex-chief statistician Pronab Sen said.

He, however, added that the government still needs to clarify the role of National Statistical Commission (NSC) which was envisaged as a governing council of the NSO in the original decision taken during the United Progressive Alliance government in 2005.

In a bid to streamline and strengthen the statistical system, the government has decided to merge the Central Statistical Organisation (CSO) and the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) to form NSO. The move was based on recommendations of the report of the National Statistical Commission, headed by former Reserve Bank of India governor C Rangarajan in 2001.

Both the wings were previously part of the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation (MoSPI). While the NSSO used to come out with various sample surveys such as on consumption expenditure, employment and unemployment, the CSO released data such as GDP and IIP.

Talking to Business Standard, chief statistician Pravin Srivastava had assured that the notification in no way dilutes “the independence of statistical bodies” but “strengthens the system” and the NSC will “continue to work as an overarching body and at an arm’s length.”

The Rangarajan committee had recommended setting up of the NSC, headed by a person with a Minister of State-level designation, to serve as a nodal and empowered body for all core statistical activities of the country. However, it had sought NSC as a statutory body reporting directly to the Parliament.

In its present form, the NSC is an executive body and after its chairman P C Mohanan and member J V Meenakshi resigned in January over allegedly being sidelined on key statistical decisions and withholding of the periodic labour force survey 2017-18 results, the government is yet to reconstitute the body.

According to the Rangarajan commission, the NSC was supposed to operate through the NSO, an official agency to implement policy decisions of the NSC. However, the May 23 notification hasn’t mentioned the role of the NSC.

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