Statistical Commission to discuss junked consumer spending report on Dec 4

The National Statistical Commission (NSC) will meet on Wednesday to discuss the recent controversy created by the government’s decision to scrap the official survey on consumer spending.

The “data quality issues” arising out of the surveys conducted by the National Statistical Office (NSO) is on the top of the NSC’s agenda for the meeting, according to a person aware of the development. The NSC will also discuss the comparability of the NSO survey results with administrative data produced by various arms of the government.

The NSC is an autonomous body overlooking the country’s statistical system and is headed by cryptologist Bimal Kumar Roy. 

This is the first meeting of the NSC after the government decided to junk its consumer expenditure survey of 2017-18. The NSO officials are expected to give a presentation to the NSC members on the government’s decision to scrap the survey and the data quality issues found in various surveys.

Business Standard reported on November 15 that consumer spending, in real terms, 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.’ This, according to experts, implied that the poverty ratio in the country might have inched up for the first time in many decades.

The report, which was approved for release by a working group in June, was withheld due to its “adverse findings”, four persons aware of the development said. Following the news report, the statistics and programme implementation ministry issued a statement on November 15 saying it has decided to scrap the survey because of “data quality” issues.

The statistics ministry was supposed to put up the consumer expenditure survey report for the approval of the NSC after the working group’s approval on June 19.

However, instead of putting the results of the survey for approval before the NSC, as per the due procedure, statistics secretary and chief statistician Pravin Srivastava chaired a meeting with NSO officials on July 11 to discuss the findings of the report, according to documents reviewed by Business Standard.

Following the meeting, the ministry decided to set up an ‘ad-hoc’ committee “to review the validation of data for consumer expenditure survey to ensure its consistency and completeness.”

The ad-hoc committee, which was set up under the erstwhile National Sample Survey Office director general and NSC member G C Manna, submitted its report in September. But the statistics ministry didn’t consult the NSC till November nor did it release the survey report. It decided to scrap the survey on November 15 after the findings of the survey were leaked.

A few days later, the government released five sets of survey reports on key socio-economic trends, most of which were approved but withheld. However, the junked consumer expenditure survey was not among these. 

“The NSC approval wasn’t sought for the public release of any of these survey reports,” the source added.

As such, the survey reports of the NSO need the approval of the NSC and not that of the government — a mechanism put in place since 1960s when a governing council was formed which was later replaced by the Commission in 2006, according to a former NSC member.

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