Who will approve and release official surveys? Draft NSC Bill stays silent

The proposed law on the National Statistical Commission (NSC) omits a critical element necessary for the autonomy of official statistics: Giving powers to the body to approve and release official survey reports.

The draft NSC Bill, which was made public last week for inviting comments, proposes to give the NSC an “advisory role” in terms of periodic reviews of official statistical systems at various levels. While releasing the draft, the government said it had borrowed ideas from a report by a commission led by former Reserve Bank of India governor 
C Rangarajan, of 2000-01.

However, while the Rangarajan commission had recommended making the NSC a “nodal and empowered body for all core statistical activities of the country”, the government said the NSC would be a “nodal empowered body for setting up mandatory standards” for such datasets.

The NSC, established in 2005, did not have a legislative framework, and due to this it faced challenges in implementing its recommendations, according to the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation.

The NSC is proposed to be a set up as a “body corporate” with full-time members instead of part-time members as at present, working out of an independent secretariat. All of this, a former NSC chairman said, will be a step forward 
in terms of giving some autonomy to the NSC.

However, the ranks of all NSC members, including its chairman, are not mentioned in the draft Bill. 

“According to the draft Bill, the NSC is not going to be part of the government because it will be set up as a body corporate. No mentioning of the rank and status of NSC members diminishes the stature of the body,” said former chief statistician Pronab Sen, who had also held the post of NSC chairman.

At present, while the NSC chairman enjoys the rank of minister of state, all the NSC members have the rank of Union secretary. Sen said since an external agency could not be held responsible for official statistics, it had been given an advisory role.

However, there is no mention of making the NSC the final authority for approving official National Statistical Office (NSO) survey reports. This comes at a time when the government had withheld the release of NSO survey reports. 

According to the draft Bill, the commission will “identify the agencies that will be responsible for the collection, compilation and publication” of core statistics and “release calendar of the statistics.” Chief Statistician Pravin Srivastava didn’t respond to queries from Business Standard.

Earlier this year, the government delayed the release of the Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS) report, which showed the unemployment rate touching a 45-year-high of 6.1 per cent in 2017-18, by five months. It had released the report immediately after the Lok Sabha elections were over in May.

Last month, the government announced scrapping the NSO’s consumer expenditure survey report of 2017-18. This was a day after Business Standard had reported contents of the report, which showed consumer spending dropping for the first time in over four decades. Economists across the globe had written to the government, demanding the autonomy of the statistical system.

When the NSC became effective in 2006, it assumed “all the functions” of the erstwhile Governing Council, which was dissolved through an executive order. The Governing Council used to be an autonomous body looking after the work of the erstwhile National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) and had the mandate to “approve survey designs and release survey reports”.

 
Powers Proposed

NSC will advise Centre and state governments on the following:

  • Legislative measures pertaining to official statistics.
  • Identifying and evolving national policies and priorities with respect to the official statistical system.
  • Laying down standard statistical concepts, definitions, classifications as well as methodologies for official statistics.
  • Establishing high professional standards and devising a code of conduct to build up ethos for the profession of statistics.
  • Collecting, compiling, and disseminating core statistics.
  • Identifying agencies that will be responsible for the collection, compilation, and publication of core statistics, and release of the calendar of official data.

 



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