Consumer spend survey: Panel didn't flag quality issues, ask for scrapping

Consumer spending fell for the first time in over four decades by 3.7 per cent between 2011-12 and 2017-18, according to the NSO’s survey
The expert committee set up by the Union government to review the National Statistical Office’s (NSO’s) consumer expenditure survey had not recommended junking the report, sources privy to the development said.

The committee, which was set up under the erstwhile National Sample Survey Office director general and National Statistical Commission (NSC) member G C Manna, did not flag “data quality” issues in the 2017-18 survey report. The committee had members from the NSO and the Central Statistical Office divisions of the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation.

Business Standard reported on Friday that consumer spending fell for the first time in over four decades by 3.7 per cent between 2011-12 and 2017-18, according to the NSO’s ‘Key Indicators of Household Consumption Survey.’

The report, which was approved for release by a committee in June, was withheld due to its “adverse findings”, according to sources. Following the news report, the statistics ministry issued a statement saying it has decided to junk the survey because of “data quality” issues.

In its statement, the ministry had said a committee of experts was formed and several “concerns” related to the survey report was flagged to it.

“The committee gave its recommendations for improving future NSO surveys. It didn’t find any issues related to data collection and data validation related to the consumer expenditure survey of 2017-18,” the source said.

  • Expert committee did not flag data quality issues in the NSO’s consumer expenditure survey of 2017-18 
  • It did recommend steps to improve future survey reports 
  • The committee took note of rising divergence between the consumer expenditure survey and GDP data 
  • The committee found a matching trend between falling wages and declining consumer expenditure in rural areas between 2011-12 and 2017-18

On the contrary, the committee corroborated the findings of the consumer expenditure survey report with the periodic labour force survey (PLFS) — the two household surveys conducted by the NSO between July 2017 and June 2018. It found a decrease in average wage of workers between 2011-12 and 2017-18 by analysing the PLFS report, which was also withheld for release for five months till May 2019. “The falling wage in rural areas matched the declining consumer expenditure trend during this period,” the source added.

Chief Statistician Pravin Srivastava and Manna did not respond to questions.

As mentioned in the ministry’s official statement on Friday, the committee did find increasing divergence between the private final consumption expenditure data, part of gross domestic product numbers, and the consumer expenditure data from the NSO surveys.

“The divergence has further increased in 2017-18 compared to 2011-12 and the committee recommended ways in which this can be plugged but in future surveys. The committee did not recommend the ministry to junk the report,” the source said.

Despite the approval of a working group on June 19, the consumer expenditure report was not referred to the NSC, an autonomous body supervising India’s statistical system, another official said. The expert committee was also set up without the knowledge of the working group chairman, a member of the committee said.

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