Because data is a public good -PC Mohanan

-The Indian Express

My resignation from National Statistical Commission was the last act in a long story of disregard for its reports

William Setzer, in the working paper, “Politics and Statistics: Independence, Dependence or Interaction”, published by the UN, lists several possible areas where political interference in official data generation and publication can happen. One of these is the extent and timing of release of data. He cites several examples. Most of the instances quoted by him fortunately happened in the past and in countries not following a democratic political system. However, generation of official statistics with independent oversight was recognised as a key requirement for ensuring data credibility in India from the very beginning. Successive governments have made efforts to create institutions to safeguard the integrity and objectivity of official statistics and recognised official data as a “public good”. The present government also notified in the official gazette the acceptance of a set of principles called the fundamental principles of official statistics that is accepted as the bedrock of an independent statistical system.

The first of the fundamental principles of official statistics notified by the government of India states that “Official statistics provide an indispensable element in the information system of a democratic society, serving the government, the economy and the public with data about the economic, demographic, social and environmental situation. To this end, official statistics that meet the test of practical utility are to be compiled and made available on an impartial basis by official statistical agencies to honour citizens’ entitlement to public information.”

The National Statistical Commission (NSC) was one of the two most visible outcomes of the report of C Rangarajan on the Indian Statistical System, submitted in 2001. The report was commissioned by the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government recognising the increasing importance of official statistics in a world that was getting integrated economically. Credible data was required not only for national governments but also sought by multilateral agencies for inter-country comparisons, as well as for investment decisions by private corporates. The other outcome was the creation of a position called the Chief Statistician of India (CSI) with a fixed tenure and to be selected from a panel given to the government. The idea was that the CSI heading the Central Statistical Office would be a professional and not a career bureaucrat. The NSC was to be the apex body for all statistical matters with a very wide mandate.

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The Indian Express, 12 February, 2019,

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