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The Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation has sought comments and suggestions on the Draft National Statistical Commission Bill 2019 to make data collection more transparent and reliable. The present draft NSC Bill proposes to establish a National Statistical Commission as the nodal and autonomous body for core statistical activities for the country, to evolve, monitor and enforce priorities and standards and to ensure coordination.

Draft National Statistical Commission Bill, 2019:

The Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation published the Draft National Statistical Commission Bill, 2019 for public comments. The draft Bill seeks to constitute a National Statistical Commission (NSC) as the nodal regulatory body for all principal statistical activities of the country. Key features include:

  • Constitution of National Statistical Commission: The draft Bill sets up the National Statistical Commission (NSC). The NSC will consist of nine members. These include: (i) the Chairperson, (ii) five full time members, (iii) the Deputy Governor, RBI, (iv) the Chief Statistician of India, and (v) the Chief Economic Advisor, Ministry of Finance. The Chairperson and the five full time members of the NSC will be appointed by the centre. These appointments will be based on the recommendations of a Search Committee constituted by the central government.
  • Functions of the National Statistical Commission: The NSC will advise central and state governments, courts and tribunals on matters relating to government statistics. These include evolving national policies, legislative measures, and laying standards for statistical concepts and methodologies. It will maintain government statistics data for public distribution.
  • Statistical audit: The draft Bill establishes the National Statistical Audit and Assessment Organization within the NSC. This division will conduct periodic statistical audit of any statistical survey being conducted by a government agency. It will be headed by the Chief Statistical Auditor, appointed by the central government.
  • National Statistical Fund: The draft Bill constitutes the National Statistical Fund. This fund shall include resources received by the NSC through government grants, fees and charges, and any other sources decided by the central government. The fund can be used to pay salaries, allowances and other remuneration to the members, among others.
  • Inquiries, offences and penalties: The NSC has the power to warn, caution or censure a government agency if: (i) it does not comply with the standards of statistical ethics, or (ii) any person engaged in government statistics commits professional misconduct, makes a false or misleading statement or material omission in any information furnished to the NSC.

Evolution of National Statistics Commission:

  • National Statistics Commission came in to existence through a Resolution dated 1st June, 2005 setup National Statistical Commission w.e.f 12th July, 2006.
  • It is based on the recommendations of Rangarajan Commission, which reviewed the Indian Statistical System in 2001.
  • It is supposed to act as a nodal and empowered body for all core statistical activities of the country. It will also ensure statistical coordination among the different agencies involved.
  • The mandate is to evolve policies, priorities and standards in statistical matters.
  • It is to have chairperson and four members. CEO, NITI Aayog is the Ex-officio Member and Chief Statistician of India and Secretary, Ministry of Statistics and Program Implementation is the Secretary to the National Statistical Commission.

Recent controversies regarding data anomalies:

  • Over the past few months, Indian national statistics and the organisations that administer them have faced a volley of criticism.
  • Two independent members of the National Statistical Commission resigned in protest, over alleged suppression of economic data by the government.
  • More recently, amidst growing scepticism regarding India’s official statistics, more than a hundred scholars comprising economists and social scientists released a statement decrying the fall in standards of institutional independence, suggesting political interference as the cause.
  • Kaushik Basu, a former chief economist of the World Bank, also recently regret strongly the declining credibility of India’s official statistics.

How important is this bill?

  • There was a long felt need of an apex body to handle statistics.
  • We need structural data collection for many government oriented policy interventions.
  • Today, data is a new oil and if not collected in a structural fashion the desired conclusion would be difficult to reach.
  • The data available at one department or ministry is not available for other departments.
  • This bill will make data available for other departments whenever needed.
  • Data need statistical, sound and robust approach which is globally required and this bill will fill up those gaps.

How this bill will provide credible data?

  • By providing statutory status and giving it adequate autonomy and authority and thus validating in due course will be a good idea.
  • Data is the same but now it will have legal backing.
  • All things will be set up to rest with the legal backing.
  • Our data standard will be to the level of global standards.

Importance of improving the Statistical system:

  • The Indian National Sample Survey is respected the world over. Not just because of its size, but also for its sample design, that uses methods make perfect by some of the world’s most reputed statisticians.
  • This distinguished history, which India can claim with pride, makes the recent undermining of the credibility of our statistical output especially regrettable.
  • We can, however, ensure that when we look back on this several years from now, it represents an anomaly rather than a lasting, irreparable loss of institutional credibility.
  • It is also imperative to use the scientific methods for data collection and estimation and their timely dissemination, which form vital public services.
  • India, with its vastness and complexities, poses tremendous challenges for data collection.
  • The dualistic nature of the economy means a large unorganised sector coexists with the organised sector that the data collection systems are unable to fully cover.