This, however, raises data accuracy concerns, pointed out former chief statistician of India Pronab Sen. “In retail inflation, data comparability is the key. If the category is basmati rice, you need to gather price for only a specific quality of basmati rice. That will be a challenge to do on the phone. The point is we don’t know if the data being reported is accurate,” said Sen.
Coming to the index of industrial production, the data for March, which will be released in May, will be problematic with most factories closing down in the middle of the month. Unlike CPI, production data for IIP is submitted online by factories in a specific format by the production team and reaches NSO through 16 source agencies including the Department of Policy of Industry and Internal Trade (DPIIT), Directorate of Sugar, etc.
However, even if a factory carried out production during some part of March but closed after that, data may not get reported due to shortage of factory staff. Sen pointed out that providing data to the government is not high on the list of factories and follow ups have to do done. “In case of no response, the data entered will go as zero, which will not be true on the ground,” he said.
To tackle this, the NSO will reach out to corporate groups to provide data to the source ministries in a timely manner. “We will request the DPIIT to interact with the reporting units and get whatever data they can,” said Srivastava. The data for the lockdown
period, beginning March, will carry a caveat that it is not comparable with the previous years.
For example, barber shops are closed, so there will be no data for the month of April. “And then if you say zero versus last year, it would not actually be compatible,” said Srivastava. He added that there are challenges and the department will use statistical methods for computation and see how much is doable.
In fact, the department is also in touch with international agencies to gather experiences of handling data and statistics amid the pandemic situation.
“There are going to be data gaps throughout the world. The problem is not unique to India. This is a global problem and we are in touch with all the international agencies to see how we can address it,” the chief statistician of India said. From now on, online and telephone would perhaps be a predominant way of collecting data, he added.