PP-The State of Indian Statistical System Evolution and Challenges

The State of the Indian Statistical System: Evolution and Challenges

Arjun Kumar[1]

[1] Director, IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute, New Delhi

Title: The State of the Indian Statistical System: Evolution and Challenges
Author(s):Arjun Kumar
Keywords:Statistics; NSS; Census; Survey; New India
Issue Date:October 8, 2023
Publisher:IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute
Abstract:The system of official economic statistics in India has undergone myriad changes since Independence. There have been various developments in its administrative structures and changing levels of focus on different economic sectors. The types of datasets available for these sectors have been ever-evolving and undergo dynamic changes owing to real-time measurement and analysis using ICT. Using this sector-wise classification of Agriculture, Industries, and Services, and also including the unorganized and informal sectors, the paper explores India’s structure of economic statistics. While the paper draws attention to recent datasets and rounds of surveys, the focus is also on the evolution of the system of official economic statistics in India. The paper highlights issues with the credibility and utility of the available data, in light of a declining GDP growth which also gives rise to more serious questions on the reliability of the country’s data architecture and system of economic statistics. It also discusses structural changes such as those of the MoSPI and NSC. The system of official economic statistics in India now faces the challenge of adapting to Information and Communication Technology. The paper thus emphasizes the role of strengthening real-time and Management Information Systems data to enable evidence-based policymaking and planning and realize the vision of ‘New India’ and a US$ 5 trillion economy.
ISSN:2583-3464 (Online)
Appears in Collections:IPRR Vol. 2 (1) [January-June 2023]
PDF Link:https://iprr.impriindia.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/10/PP1_The-State-of-the-Indian-Statistical-System-IPRR-V2I1_Jan-June-2023.pdf

(January-June 2023) Volume 2, Issue 1 | 8th October 2023
ISSN: 2583-3464 (Online)

The system of official economic statistics in India has undergone myriad changes since Independence. There have been various developments in its administrative structures and changing levels of focus on different economic sectors. The types of datasets available for these sectors have been ever-evolving and undergo dynamic changes owing to real-time measurement and analysis using ICT. Using this sector-wise classification of Agriculture, Industries, and Services, and also including the unorganized and informal sectors, the paper explores India’s structure of economic statistics. While the paper draws attention to recent datasets and rounds of surveys, the focus is also on the evolution of the system of official economic statistics in India. The paper highlights issues with the credibility and utility of the available data, in light of a declining GDP growth which also gives rise to more serious questions on the reliability of the country’s data architecture and system of economic statistics. It also discusses structural changes such as those of the MoSPI and NSC. The system of official economic statistics in India now faces the challenge of adapting to Information and Communication Technology. The paper thus emphasizes the role of strengthening real-time and Management Information Systems data to enable evidence-based policymaking and planning and realize the vision of ‘New India’ and a US$ 5 trillion economy.

Background and Motivation

As the Indian economy has grown since its independence, it has experienced decades of sectoral changes, evolving reform processes, and technological advances. In turn, it has become one of the major fastest-growing developing economies in the world and is poised to become further strengthened in the 21st century as it has strong macroeconomic fundamentals and a unique ‘India’ brand in the era of globalization.

One of the contributors to the strong economic fundamentals in India has been its robust official statistical architecture, which responds to the dynamics of the country’s governance and planning structures, socio-economic, technological, and other reform processes. Understandably, the system of official economic statistics in India has undergone myriad changes. There have been various developments in its administrative structures and changing levels of focus on different economic sectors.

At present, the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation (MoSPI) is the nodal ministry of the Government of India (GoI) concerned with aspects of coverage and quality of statistics that are regularly released. The surveys conducted by the Ministry are based on scientific sampling methods. Its Five-Year Vision Plan for 2019-2024 has urged the National Statistical System to be geared toward meeting the demands of society and policymakers through the reliability, comprehension capacity, and accessibility of digital data. It has highlighted that to reach the goal of becoming a USD 5 trillion economy by 2024-25, real-time monitoring and improved metrics of various parameters of the economy are needed (Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation, 2019). This further becomes relevant in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) era. Aligning with the Agenda 2030 suggestion to the member states to conduct regular and inclusive reviews of progress at the national and sub-national levels, the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA) has come up with guidelines for the national statisticians to enable them to monitor progress made in the implementation of the SDGs based on data produced by national statistical systems.

For ensuring evidence-based policymaking, the Guidelines on Integrated Economic Statistics provide practical guidance on advancing consistency, coherence, and reconciliation of statistical information through the application of the methodology of integrated economic statistics using the System of National Accounts 2008 as the overarching conceptual framework (Department of Economic and Social Affairs Statistics Division, UNDESA, 2013).

In India, sectoral-level data has been gathered through multiple sources such as the Agricultural and Livestock Censuses, which capture data on the agricultural sector. For the Industries sector, the Annual Survey of Industries and the Directorate of Industries in states are the two major sources of industry data. Since economic liberalization in India, there has been an increased focus on the Services sector and the development of a well-organized mechanism to cover it. This sector is covered by National Sample Surveys, the Ministry of Corporate Affairs’ MCA-21 Database, Goods and Services Tax (GST), and others. The unorganized and informal sectors of the economy also find coverage in the National Sample Survey (NSS) Rounds on Employment and Enterprises. The Census of India, the Economic Census, Price Indices, and NSS Rounds on Consumption Expenditure, Enterprises, and Employment, among others, are major sources of economic statistics as well. We also have new arrays of data for the formal sector in the form of Banking, Employers’ Provident Fund Organisation, Direct Tax, GST, Property Tax, and others, as well as various administrative and program data in the form of Management Information Systems (MIS) and Dashboards. The types of datasets available for various economic sectors have been ever-evolving and undergo dynamic changes owing to real-time measurement and analysis using Information and Communication Technology (ICT). This paper adopts the sectoral framework to understand and trace the contours of official economic statistics in India. The sector-wise analysis would assess the classification of the three broad industry structures i.e., primary or agriculture, secondary or industries, and tertiary or services, along with the unorganized and organized sectors. This paper explores India’s structure of economic statistics and examines the challenges and possibilities to suggest possible ways forward from this sectoral analysis.

While the paper draws attention to recent datasets and rounds of surveys, the focus is also on the evolution of the system of official economic statistics in India. The paper highlights issues with the credibility and utility of the available data, in light of a declining rate of growth of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), which also gives rise to more serious questions on the reliability of the country’s data architecture and system of economic statistics. It also discusses the structure, issues, and changes in MoSPI, NSSO, and the National Statistical Commission (NSC).

This paper is divided into five sections. The introductory section is followed by the sectoral overview of the sources of economic statistics in India. Section Three traces the contours of official sectoral economic statistics and in doing so it discusses the Indian Statistical System and vision documents for New India on statistics and data for a “new economy”. Section Four highlights some impediments in producing authentic data and ensuring reliable information. The paper finally concludes with a discussion on the ways forward to address the critical gaps in India’s statistical system to ensure a streamlined collection, calculation, and monitoring of data that will ultimately address the national priorities for the benefit of its citizens.

Sources of Official Economic Statistics in India: A Sectoral Overview

Official Economic Statistics

Here, we talk about the structure of economic statistics in India. One part lies with government bodies like MoSPI and Ministries such as Labour, Annual Survey of Industries, etc., and the other with entities who reproduce the data, both of government such as NITI Aayog and RBI as well as private, such as ISEC, IndiaStat and others. 

Table 1: Official Economic Statistics, Selected
AreaData SourceSource Organisation
National Income and Accountshttps://mospi.gov.in/web/mospi/reports-publications/-/reports/view/templateFive/901?q=RPCATMinistry of Statistics and Programme Implementation (MoSPI)
Taxationhttps://www.gst.gov.in/Goods and Services Tax (GST)
https://www.incometaxindia.gov.in/pages/about-us/central-board-of-direct-taxation.aspxCentral Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT)
Monetary, Banking and Financehttps://dbie.rbi.org.in/DBIE/dbie.rbi?site=statisticsReserve Bank of India
Priceshttp://labourbureaunew.gov.in/Labour Bureau
https://eaindustry.nic.in/Office of the Economic Adviser, Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade
Budget and Public Financehttps://www.indiabudget.gov.in/Union Budget, Ministry of Finance
https://dea.gov.in/Department of Economic Affairs (DEA), Ministry of Finance
Insurancehttps://www.irdai.gov.in/Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority of India (IRDAI)
DemographyCensus: https://censusindia.gov.in/Office of the Registrar General & Census Commissioner, India, Ministry of Home Affairs
Socio-Economic Caste Census: https://secc.gov.in/welcomeMinistry of Rural Development
Aadhaar: https://uidai.gov.in/Unique Identification Authority of India
Labor, Employment and Wageshttp://mospi.nic.in/94-labour-and-employment-statistics National Sample Survey: Employment and Unemployment: http://mospi.nic.in/sites/default/files/publication_reports/nss_report_554_31jan14.pdf Periodic Labour Force Survey: http://mospi.nic.in/Periodic-Labour-SurveysMoSPI
Consumption Expenditure, Debt and InvestmentAll India Debt and Investment Survey: http://mospi.nic.in/sites/default/files/publication_reports/nss_577.pdf Consumer Expenditure Survey: http://mospi.nic.in/sites/default/files/publication_reports/Report_no558_rou68_30june14.pdfNational Sample Survey Office, MoSPI
Migration and Mobilityhttps://censusindia.gov.in/Census_And_You/migrations.aspxRegistrar General and Census Commissioner of India
Government Schemes and Programshttps://digitalindia.gov.in/ https://www.mygov.in/ https://data.gov.in/ 
Source: Compiled by authors

National Income and Accounts: It is compiled by CSO and details of the methodology are outlined in documents released (MoSPI, 2015; UN, 2008; MoSPI, 2019g). National Accounts Statistics: Sources and Methods 2012 describes the sources and methods of estimation of macroeconomic aggregates, domestic product, consumption expenditure, saving, capital formation, capital stock, accounts of the public sector and consolidated accounts of the nation, which are presented in the Central Statistical Office (CSO)’s annual publication ‘National Accounts Statistics’ (NAS). MoSPI has released an updated Methodology for Compilation of the Gross State Value Added (GSVA) in the New Base (2011-12) in 2019.

The CSO releases National Accounts Statistics each year with many faces of national accounts by economic sectors/activities, further accounts classifications, and details of any changes. The latest available National Accounts Statistics is for the year 2019 (http://www.mospi.gov.in/publication/national-accounts-statistics-2019). These accounts are also available for quarterly estimates, however, the yearly one is most used for reporting and analysis. The latest base year series used is 2011-12, which was 2004-05 earlier. 

At the sub-national and district level, CSO suggests the methodology for state DES to calculate and estimate the same. However, DES mostly reports yearly GVA and rarely goes into further details or inquiry in practice.

We do not have any estimates at the local levels, especially for cities. However, during the changes in the base year, CSO does give rural and urban classifications and also outlines a method for the same. Nonetheless, no estimation can be found officially using the same. Currently, India has 4302 cities, around 4000 census towns (not incorporated by law), 2.4 Lakh Gram Panchayats and 6.4 Lakh villages.

An Input-Output transaction table is also a part of MoSPI’s data provisions. Methods and data for the same are provided. Further discussions[1] on Input-Output and social accounting in India also exist.

Taxation:  The information on direct, indirect (Goods and Services Tax (GST), https://www.gst.gov.in/) and other taxes are given by respective boards such as Central Board of  Direct Taxes  (https://www.incometaxindia.gov.in/pages/about-us/central-board-of-direct-taxation.aspx) under the Ministry of Finance (MoF). 

Budget and Public Finance: Similarly, the MoF also presents the Union Budget (https://www.indiabudget.gov.in/) each year along with the Economic Survey in Parliament. It has statistics on revenue, borrowing, payment, expenditure, outlays, deficits and so on. These are also available at the website of the Department of Economic Affairs, MoF (https://dea.gov.in/data-statistics) as follows:

  • External Debt
  • Public Finance Statistics
  • Central Government Borrowings
  • National Summary Data 
  • Monthly Economic Report
  • Overseas Direct Investment ODI
  • Debt Statistics Middle Office
  • QEDS 

Monetary, Banking and Finance: The RBI Database on Indian Economy and Handbook of Statistics on Indian Economy give data in this area. The information is given in four parts: Annual Series, Quarterly/Monthly Series, Series with less than Monthly Frequency and Major Growth Rates and Ratios. The areas covered are National Income and Employment, Output and Prices, Money and Banking, Financial Markets, Public Finance, Trade and Balance of Payments, Currency and Coinage, Socioeconomic Indicators, External Sector, Exchange Rates, Macroeconomic Aggregates, Wholesale and Consumer Price Indices, among others.

Prices: All-India item-wise Consumer Prices Indices (Industrial Workers, Agricultural and Rural Laborers) and Retail Price Indices are given by the Labor Bureau (http://labourbureau.gov.in/). Wholesale Price Index is given by the Office of Economic Adviser, Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade (https://eaindustry.nic.in/).

Businesses: Corporate, Industry, Enterprises: The data in this area comes from myriad sources such as the Economic Census, Enterprise Surveys, Ministry of MSMEs (which provides Udyog Aadhaar for identification), GST (registrations, returns and collection), databases of the Ministry of Corporate Affairs and the Registrar of Companies, Directorate of Industries, PAN and TAN databases, among others.

The Economic Census has been carried out since 1977, (1980, 1990, 1998, 2005, 2013 and 2019) with its scope specifying multiple exclusions. The NSS Enterprise Surveys also exclude sectors such as the Primary Sector, Construction and Government enterprises. This makes it important to assess how and where the informal sector is being included in the country’s data collection machinery and where to look for data on the same.

Additional resources are available from the Development Commissioner, Ministry of Micro Medium and Small Enterprises[2] and Ease of Doing Business from NITI Aayog[3].

Foreign Trade and Investments:  Export-Import Bank of India (Exim Bank) – https://www.eximbankindia.in/ – provides data of relevance.

Insurance: Data is given by the Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority https://www.irdai.gov.in/

Demography: The Census (https://censusindia.gov.in/), Socioeconomic Caste Census (https://secc.gov.in/welcome) and the Aadhaar database (https://uidai.gov.in/) are perhaps the three most pertinent sources of data in this area.

Labor, Employment and Wages: The important sources of labor market information at enterprise levels are: the Economic Census, the Census of Small-Scale Industries (SSI), the Annual Survey of Industries (ASI), the Directorate General of Employment and Training (DGET), the Commission for Agricultural Cost and Prices (CACP) and the NSSO (through EUS and PLFS). Apart from these major sources, various sub-national agencies, departments of governments, and international agencies such as the International Labor Organization (ILO) and the Labor Bureau also provide sector and region-specific information relating to labor markets. Data from the Employee Exchange, Employees’ Provident Fund Organisation (EPFO), Employees’ State Insurance Corporation (ESIC), and the Pension Fund Regulatory and Development Authority (PFRDA) also becomes of note.

Housing and Land: Data is found in House Listings and Housing Census, NSS Rounds on Housing and Amenities and Slum Settlements, National Family Health Surveys (NFHS) and is also embedded in other survey data. Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY) and other government schemes maintain housing program-related data.

Official estimates for property prices in the market are obtained from the RESIDEX, prepared by the National Housing Bank (NHB) (https://residex.nhbonline.org.in/) and the Housing Price Index of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI). Estimates from institutional and private sources are also available from real estate companies and institutions such as Housing and Urban Development Corporation (HUDCO), National Buildings Organisation (NBO), National Buildings Construction Corporation (NBCC), Construction Industry Development Council (CIDC), CREDAI, NAREDCO, JLL, CBRE, Knight Frank, Cushman & Wakefield, Propequity, KPMG, McKinsey Global Institute, Colliers, HDIL, ET Intelligence group and so on. Furthermore, Nestoria. in, housing.com, commonfloor.com, 99acres.com, makaan.com and many others provide online portals for real estate and housing. However, all these collect information for a handful of large cities and a limited number of projects in India, and, hence, lack robustness.

Circle rates are obtained from the Registration and Stamps, Dept. of the Department of Revenue for all the states and cities. Municipal Valuation Committees/local bodies decide these rates for different localities, such as colonies, wards, zones, etc. Circle rates consist of land and construction costs by type of settlements, colonies, location, etc. (Kundu & Kumar, 2019).

Social Statistics: There are myriad datasets for health and education. Notably, they include the National Family Health Survey (NFHS), Health Management Information Systems, District Level Household and Facility Survey and the Sample Registration System. Certain NSS rounds also cover Social Consumption (Health and Education) and Sanitation and Housing Conditions, among others. Further, education is covered by the All-India Survey on Higher Education (AISHE) and the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER).

Supplementary data also come from sources such as the India Human Development Survey (IHDS).

Environment, Forest and Natural Resources Statistics: Apart from the CSO, various ministries and departments of Central and State Governments collect information related to Environment Statistics and the same is published in various publications namely, Forestry Statistics, The State of Forest Report, Inventory of Forest Resources of India, State of Environment, etc. by organizations within the Ministry of Environment and Forests; Agriculture Statistics at a Glance and Fisheries Statistics by the Ministry of Agriculture; Water Statistics by Ministry of Water Resources, etc. 

Official Sectoral Economic Statistics: Agriculture and Allied Activities

Table 2: Sources of Official Sectoral Economic Statistics: Agriculture  
 Data SourceSource OrganizationYears
1Agriculture CensusMinistry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare1970-71
2Livestock CensusDepartment of Animal Husbandry and Dairying, Ministry of Fisheries, Animal Husbandry and DairyingQuinquennially since 1919 (20th Census launched in October 2018)
3Economic CensusMinistry of Statistics and Program Implementation1977, 1980, 1990, 1998, 2005, 2013, 2019
4National Sample Survey: Situation Assessment of Agricultural HouseholdsNational Sample Survey Office, Ministry of Statistics and Program Implementation59th Round (2003) 70th Round (2013)
5National Sample Survey: Land and Livestock HoldingsNational Sample Survey Office, Ministry of Statistics and Program Implementation8th Round (1954-55) 16th Round (1961-62) 26th Round (1971-72) 37th Round (1982) 48th Round (1992) 59th Round (2003) 70th Round (2013)
6Annual ReportsDepartment of Agriculture, Cooperation and Farmers Welfare, Ministry of Agriculture 
Source: Compiled by authors

The Agriculture Census has been conducted at five-year intervals since 1970-71 to collect data on structural aspects of operational holdings in the country. It is carried out in three phases – Collection of data on primary characteristics like number and area of holdings by social groups, gender, etc. (Phase I), Collection of detailed data on land use, irrigation status, etc. (Phase II) and Input Survey collecting data on the pattern of input use (Phase III). Similarly, the Livestock Census since 1919, quinquennially carries out a complete enumeration of livestock, poultry (and others, along with their sex composition, age, distribution, utility-wise distribution, etc.), machinery and implements, among others.

National Sample Surveys also emerged pertaining to the Agriculture Sector, namely, the Survey of Land and Livestock Holdings (since 1954) and the Situation Assessment Survey (2003 and 2013), which collect information on various aspects of farming and other socio-economic characteristics of agricultural households, as well as household and livestock ownership.

There also exists a plethora of ancillary agrarian data (http://www.mospi.gov.in/4-agricultural-statistics, http://agricoop.nic.in/sites/default/files/pocketbook_0.pdf, https://eands.dacnet.nic.in/) on the consumption of inputs, cultivation costs and income, cropping pattern and yields, among others. 

Official Sectoral Economic Statistics: Industry

Table 3: Sources of Official Sectoral Economic Statistics: Industry  
 Data SourceSource OrganizationYears
1Economic CensusMinistry of Statistics and Programme Implementation1977, 1980, 1990, 1998, 2005, 2013, 2019
2Annual Survey of IndustriesNational Sample Survey Office, Ministry of Statistics and Programme ImplementationSince 1960
3National Sample Survey: Enterprise SurveysNational Sample Survey Office, Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation15 surveys from 33rd Round (1978-79) to 73rd Round (2015-16)
4Index of Industrial ProductionCentral Statistics Office, Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation 
5Mining and Mineral StatisticsMining and Mineral Statistics Division, Indian Bureau of Mines 
Source: Compiled by authors

The Annual Survey of Industries was launched in 1960 by replacing both, the Census of Manufacturing Industries (CMI) and the Sample Survey of Manufacturing Industries (SSMI). It is limited to the registered manufacturing and repairing units only (since 1998-99). Its frame is based on the lists of registered factories or units maintained by the Chief Inspector of Factories (CIF) in each State and those maintained by the licensing authorities in respect of bidi and cigar establishments. 

The units or factories in the ASI frame are grouped into Census and sample sectors. While the factories in the Census sector are surveyed on a complete enumeration basis, a representative sample from the sample sector is considered for survey in any survey year.

The important aspects of the sampling design of ASI, 1999-2000 are as under:

  • All registered manufacturing and repairing units in the frame are grouped into two basic strata namely, the Census sector and the sample sector. The units in the census stratum are surveyed on a complete enumeration basis.
  • The census sector comprises the following:
    • All manufacturing and repairing units in the frame in the five States and Union Territories of Manipur, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Tripura and Andaman and Nicobar Islands; and
    • For the remaining States and Union Territories: All manufacturing and repairing units employing 200 or more workers.
  • In each of the States and Union Territories other than the five States and Union Territories specified above, the complete list of units in the sample sector is stratified into different strata with each stratum consisting of all manufacturing and repairing units belonging to a particular industry 4-digit code of National Industrial Classification, 1998.
  • A sample of suitable size from each stratum is drawn circularly systematically with equal probability and in the form of two independent sub-samples after arranging the units according to district and number of workers.
  • Of the total number of 1,74,167 units in the frame, the gross allotment of units considered for the survey (which includes non-operating factories appearing in the frame) at the country level is 35,391 of which 9,570 are the Census sector units.

Started in the 33rd Round (1978-79) of the National Sample Survey, Enterprise Surveys serve as follow-up surveys to the Economic Census (since 1977). They give data on, among other things, Value Added, Enterprises by Type and Ownership, and Workers. This survey excludes the Primary Sector, Construction and Government Enterprises.

(Additional information is available at resources such as  http://mospi.nic.in/industrial-statistics and http://mospi.nic.in/24-industrial-statistics.)

Official Sectoral Economic Statistics: Services

Table 4: Source of Official Sectoral Economic Statistics: Services  
 Data SourceSource OrganizationYears
1Economic CensusMinistry of Statistics and Programme Implementation1977, 1980, 1990, 1998, 2005, 2013, 2019
2National Sample Survey: Enterprise SurveysNational Sample Survey Office15 surveys from the 33rd Round (1978-79) to the 73rd Round (2015-16)
3National Sample Survey: Service Sector EnterprisesNational Sample Survey Office63rd Round (2006-07) 74th Round (2016-17)
Source: Compiled by authors

The survey on Service Sector Enterprises has been carried out in the 63rd (2006-07) and 74th (2016-17) Rounds of the National Sample Survey and the latter is deemed to be a prelude to a proposed Annual Survey on Service Sector Enterprises (ASSSE). (Additional information is available at resources such as http://mospi.nic.in/25-services-sector-statistics).

Official Sectoral Economic Statistics: Unorganized/Informal Sector

Table 5: Sources of Official Sectoral Economic Statistics: Unorganised/Informal Sector  
 Data SourceSource Organization
1Report on Conditions of Work and Promotion of Livelihoods in the Unorganized SectorNational Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganized Sector
2Growth Pole Programme for Unorganized Sector Enterprise Development
3Reports on Financing of Enterprises in the Unorganized Sector and Creation of a National Fund for the Unorganized Sector (NAFUS)
4Reports on Definitional and Statistical Issues relating to Informal Economy
5Skill Formation and Employment Assurance in the Unorganized Sector
6Reports on Social Security
7Special Programme for Marginal and Small Farmers
8National Policy on Urban Street Vendors
9A Report on Technology Upgradation for Enterprises in the Unorganized Sector
10The Challenge of Employment in India – An Informal Economy Perspective (Vol-I)
11The Challenge of Employment in India – An Informal Economy Perspective (Vol-II)
12National Sample Survey: Informal Non-Agricultural EnterprisesNational Sample Survey Office, Ministry of Statistics and Program Implementation
Source: Compiled by authors

The National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganized Sector (NCEUS) and NSSO have produced the above reports. In addition, certain rounds of the NSS Enterprise Surveys focus on the Unorganized Manufacturing and Services sectors, but no report focusing on the unorganized and informal sectors is very recent. More recent rounds of the National Sample Surveys on Employment and Unemployment capture the informal sector under the enterprise types Proprietary and Partnership. This definition lends itself to an overestimation in the number of workers as well as enterprises in the country’s informal sector.

Economic Statistics: Other Official Statistics, Administrative Data and Non-Official Sources 

Such other data is captured in many ways, such as Program and Administrative data from Management Information Systems and Dashboards of Central and State Government Schemes and Ministries. A variety of business and economic databases exist, private or otherwise, with the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE), EPW Research Foundation, and World Bank Open Data being a few of them.

It is important to note that much of the data produced at the national level is also generated by the Directorates of Economics and Statistics at the state level, by applying their own frame for location.

Tracing the Contours: Indian Statistical System

Structure of MoSPI 

The Indian Statistical System (http://www.mospi.gov.in/indian-statistical-system) presently functions within the overall administrative framework of the country. By and large, the flow of statistical information emanates from the States to the Centre except in cases where the State-level operations are an integral part of Centrally sponsored schemes or data are collected through National Sample Surveys. The Central Statistical Organization (CSO) in the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation (MoSPI) is the nodal agency for the planned development of the statistical system in the country and for bringing about coordination in statistical activities among statistical agencies in the Government of India and State Directorates of Economics and Statistics. The coordination and flow of information between the MoSPI and the statistical systems of the states is given in the Annexure.

The National Sample Survey (NSS), initiated in the year 1950, is a nationwide, large-scale, continuous survey operation conducted in the form of successive rounds. It was established to fill up data gaps for socio-economic planning and policymaking through sample surveys. To get rid of the inordinate delays in the release of survey results, all aspects of survey work were brought under a single umbrella by setting up the National Sample Survey Organization (NSSO) in 1970. Since its creation, the NSSO has been functioning under the overall direction of a Governing Council with autonomy in the matter of collection, processing and publication of survey data, thus ensuring freedom from political and bureaucratic interference.

The NSSO carries out Household and Enterprise Surveys, undertakes the fieldwork for the Annual Survey of Industries, provides technical guidance to the States in respect of the Crop Estimation Surveys besides assessing the quality of primary work done by the State Agencies in area enumeration and yield estimation, prepares the urban frames useful for selection of urban blocks for the surveys and collects price data for rural retail prices as well as selected items consumed by the urban non-manual employees required for the preparation of consumer price indices for agricultural laborers and urban non-manual employees, respectively.

National Statistical Commission (NSC)

Based on the recommendations of the C. Rangarajan Commission, the National Statistical Commission (NSC) was set up to evolve policies, priorities and standards in statistical matters (MoSPI, 2001). It was established as an interim measure, and not as a permanent National Commission on Statistics to serve as a nodal and empowered body for all core statistical activities of the country, to evolve, monitor and enforce statistical priorities and standards and ensure statistical coordination among the different agencies involved. During 2002, many debates were sparked over the same raising various concerns (Dasgupta, 2002; MoSPI, 2001; MoSPI, Rangarajan, 2001; Rath, 2002; 2009; Vidwans, 2002).

Therefore, in the absence of any legislative framework, the NSC has faced challenges in implementing its recommendations. In light of this, the present government has prepared the Draft National Statistical Commission (NSC) Bill 2019 to adhere to the Rangarajan Commission’s recommendations in totality. The Bill primarily envisages encouraging Government agencies to proactively bring forth issues on the national statistical system for discussion in the Commission (MoSPI, 2019).

The MoSPI is also seeking Comments/ Suggestions on the Draft National Statistical Commission (NSC) Bill 2019 (http://www.mospi.gov.in/sites/default/files/nscbill/nscbilld.pdf).

The period since its establishment and the Draft NSC Bill 2019 has witnessed conflicts between the NSC and the Office of the Chief Statistician of India (CSI) – who apart from being the secretary to the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation (MoSPI) is also the Secretary to the NSC. This led to the decline in the credibility of the Indian statistical system exaggerated by a divided leadership, that led to several reform proposals being stuck in limbo. The peak of this conflagration came with the resignation of two of its members, citing undue government influence in the publication of an NSSO report on jobs (2018c; MoSPI, 2019b; NSC, 2018).

Reports of the NSC Committees (http://www.mospi.gov.in/reports-committees) are Legislative measures on statistical matters, Unorganized Sector Statistics, Statistics of Agriculture and allied Sectors, Periodic Labor Force Survey, Statistical Audit of All India Index of Industrial Production, Price Statistics, Data Management.

Request for Comments and Suggestions on the Report of Committees constituted by NSC (http://www.mospi.gov.in/nsc_draft_reports) in the public domain are: Report of Committee on Financial Sector Statistics, Report of Committee on Real Sector Statistics, Report of Committee on Online Reporting System, Report of Committee on Analytics, Report of Committee on Fiscal Statistics.

NSC brings out an Action Taken Report each year (http://www.mospi.gov.in/action-taken-report) and Annual Reports (http://www.mospi.gov.in/annual-report).

Draft National Policy on Official Statistics, 2018

MoSPI also invited Comments on Draft Policy: National Policy on Official Statistics in 2018 MoSPI (2018c) and there is news that this policy can be announced soon (http://mospi.gov.in/sites/default/files/announcements/draft_policy_17may18.pdf). 

Central Statistical Organisation (CSO)

To coordinate statistical activities of the different ministries of the Government of India and the State Governments and the evolving of statistical standards, the CSO was established in May 1951. The responsibilities of CSO include the preparation of National Accounts; conducting Annual Surveys of Industries, Economic Censuses and their Follow-up Enterprise Surveys; constructing Index of Industrial Production (IIP) and consumer price indices for urban non-manual employees; compiling Social Sector Statistics; imparting training in official statistics; formulating a Five Year Plan program relating to the development of statistics in the States and Union Territories; disseminating various statistical information including that relating to social and environment statistics; undertaking a periodic revision of National Industrial Classification, and others. The CSO is also responsible for periodically conducting the Conference of Central and State Statistical Organisations.

One of the major responsibilities of the CSO is to act as the nodal agency for the planned development of the statistical system of the country. The CSO is entrusted with the responsibility not only to coordinate the statistical activities of the Government of India and State Directorates of Economics and Statistics (DESs) but also to lay down and maintain norms and standards in the field of statistics. Though the CSO has no legal authority to enforce standards and coordination, the work is done through institutional arrangements like interdepartmental meetings of Working Groups, Technical Advisory Committee on various subjects, Standing Committee, etc. in the case of Central Ministries.

National Statistical Organisation (NSO)

The NSC operates through the NSO, which is the official agency for implementing policy decisions of the NSC. It has been formed by a merger of the NSSO and CSO (Magazine, 2019a). It functions as the single full-fledged Department of MoSPI headed by a Director-General and is responsible for conducting large-scale sample surveys in diverse fields on an All-India basis. Primarily, data are collected through nationwide household surveys on various socio-economic subjects and, Annual Survey of Industries (ASI), among others. Besides these surveys, NSO collects data on rural and urban prices and plays a significant role in the improvement of crop statistics through supervision of the area enumeration and crop estimation surveys of the State agencies.  It also maintains a frame of urban area units for use in sample surveys in urban areas.

Tracing the Contours: Official Sectoral Economic Statistics

India’s Economic Performance

Sectorally, agriculture has become a subsistence economy with a burden of heavy dependence on population and rain gods (low irrigation coverage), low prices of produce (supply chain & finance deficiencies), the rising cost of the input (market support) and dismal and disappointing sad news. The manufacturing growth rate has been flat for some time, despite the Make in India mission, although growth has peaked out and thus bottomed out. The service sector continues to expand and continues to be a major source of growth. The unorganized sector which accounts for about 45% of the GDP, has been badly hit by demonetization and GST. The non-agriculture component of this sector contributes to 31% of the GDP. The unorganized sector employs 80-90% of the Indian workforce. However, definitional issues and higher formalization are reported on the account of GST, ESIC, EPFO, etc. Compliance is the silver lining (Mehta & Kumar, 2019) despite high levels of unemployment as reported by PLFS, 2019, which has been a characteristic of the last decade as well termed jobless growth.

Tracing the Origin of Sectoral Official Economic Statistics

1910s1919: Livestock Census  
1950s1950: National Sample Survey Organization founded 1951: Central Statistics Office founded 1954: Land and Livestock Holdings Survey started 1955: Employment and Unemployment Survey started  
  1960: Annual Survey of Industries was launched by merging Census of Manufacturing Industries and Sample Survey of Manufacturing Industries1960s
1970s1970: Agriculture Census 1971: All India Debt and Investment Survey 1977: Economic Census 1978: NSS Enterprise Survey  
1990s1999: Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation was formed by merging Department of Statistics and Department of Programme Implementation  
  2003: Situation Assessment Survey 2004: National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganized Sector 2005: National Statistical Commission 2006: NSS: Service Sector Enterprises2000s
2010s2015: NITI Aayog, Digital India 2017: Periodic Labor Force Survey 2018: Draft National Policy on Official Statistics 2019: MoSPI Vision 2024, Draft NSC Bill  
  2020: NITI Aayog National Data and Analytics Platform: Vision Document2020
  New Survey/Census/Program Organizational Change New Document  
Figure 1: Tracing the Contours: A Timeline (Source: Compiled by Authors)

Figure 1 outlines the origins of sectoral official economic statistics in India. While the 1950s witnessed the origin of major organizational and key statistics, the Annual Survey of Industries was started in the 1960s by incorporating the Census and surveys being held earlier. The 1970s had a more professional approach towards sectoral statistics, and the Agricultural Census, NSS All India Debt and Investment Surveys, Economic Census, and NSS Enterprise Surveys were launched. In the 1990s, MoSPI was formed by merging the Department of Statistics and Programme Implementation. The decade 2000s (with Situation Assessment Surveys of Agriculture, coming up of National Statistics Commission, NSS of Service Sector Enterprises, National Commission for Enterprises in Unorganized Sector) and 2010s (with Periodic Labor Force Survey (PLFS) and many digital, technological and process improvements show more maturity and seriousness towards the sectoral economic statistics and structures.

Latest estimates and information from Sectoral Official Economic Statistics

As mentioned before, the National Accounts Statistics as given by CSO is available latest for the year 2019 at the base year 2011-12 series (http://www.mospi.gov.in/publication/national-accounts-statistics-2019).

Recently, it has also been reported to the Parliament that the Advisory Committee on National Accounts Statistics (ACNAS) has recommended to the MoSPI to consider 2020-21 as the next base year of National Accounts given the structural reforms.

The latest estimates for Industry by ASI are available for 2017-18. The Sixth Economic Census is the latest available (2013). The latest Agricultural Census is for the year 2015-16. The latest estimates for enterprises are for the year 2015-16 and for services – 2016-17 from the NSS rounds (MoSPI, 2018a; MoSPI, 2018b; MoSPI, 2019a; MoSPI, 2019c; MoSPI, 2019e; MoSPI, 2019f; MoSPI, 2020a; MoSPI, 2020b)

Real-time data for many companies (MCA), industries (Registrar of Industries & Chief Inspectors of Factories (CIFs)), Micro, Medium and Small Enterprises (MSMEs, registered), PAN, taxpayers, GST enrolled businesses, bank accounts, Mudra loans, EPFO, ESIC, PFRDA, etc are available at the sources mentioned before.

Tracing the Contours: Vision for New India: Statistics and Data

MoSPI: Five- Year Vision 2019-2024

The Vision 2024 for the National Statistical System is spearheaded by MoSPI (MoSPI, 2019d; http://www.mospi.gov.in/sites/default/files/main_menu/parliament_matters/Vision_2024_of_MoSPI.pdf) on the highlighted fact that the official statistics are a public good and are an essential part of the development architecture of India. It extensively uses digital technology to provide holistic and coherent data on a real-time basis and is committed to reforming the existing institutional, organizational and technical challenges for policy and stronger dissemination practices for the public. Some of the areas highlighted in the reform process are the integration of administrative datasets from the various government institutions and agencies; the creation of a common database of registries across beneficiary schemes at the national level to inform the policymakers of the exact number of beneficiaries, which would help in better implementation of government schemes and empower the people to make better decisions, and; strengthening of data dissemination in a timely and user-friendly manner as well as monitoring of large infrastructure projects.

Some of the transformational strategies to achieve the above reforms are: strengthening the institutional framework of the National Statistical System for data-driven interventions for measuring the progress of the goal to achieve a USD 5 Trillion Economy by 2024 with enhanced ease of living; the backdrop of Industry 4.0; Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs); Digital India program; strengthening technological and physical infrastructure and; effective management of human capital. Implementation of the objectives for achieving Vision 2024 requires mobilization of institutional, legal and policy, IT, human capital, research and development and enhanced user engagement strategies. Towards this, the government has adopted the UN Fundamental Principles of Official Statistics to promote professional ethics in the production and dissemination of official statistics in the country. A National Quality Assurance Framework was announced in 2018 by MoSPI, which was based on the UN Quality Assurance Framework. It also follows the UN Guidelines on Integrated Economic Statistics in response to the need for a consistent framework for measuring national economic activities. The approach for transformation in MoSPI would be broadly in line with the UN Economic Commission for Europe’s (UN ECE) High-Level group for the Modernization of Official Statistics This will help strengthen and establish an agile institutional framework in MoSPI that will operationalize the generic Statistical Business Process Model in statistical operations and services.

Over the next five years, MoSPI will implement wide-ranging reforms of statistical products & processes to realize its vision by the following themes:

Theme I: Strengthening statistical infrastructure for real-time monitoring of the economy

Theme II: Integrating data and registries, existing in silos in various Ministries, into the National Statistical System through an Integrated Information Portal by developing data-sharing protocols and use of technology

Theme III: Strengthening the monitoring of large infrastructure projects

These will be achieved in a time-bound manner by 3 transformational strategies:

Strategy I: Strengthening Institutional Framework

Strategy II: Strengthening Technological and Physical Infrastructure

Strategy III: Effective Human Capital Management

Harnessing technological innovations like big data analytics and artificial intelligence to develop a National Integrated Information Portal is under process, which will be a repository of all official statistics and homogenized metadata. This an important constituent of Vision 2024, intending to achieve the targets in a strict time-bound manner.

The expected outcomes of the revamped statistical system are: 

  • Improved Statistical products and processes that are relevant, accurate, reliable, timely, accessible, coherent and comparable at local, sub-national and international levels.
  • Better data integration with minimum redundancies
  • Multidisciplinary statistical product
  • Partnership and intense collaborations among stakeholders
  • Improved user – produces discussion and dissemination forum

NITI Aayog: National Data and Analytics Platform (NDAP) Vision Document, January 2020

Proposed to be released in 2021, the Vision Document for the National Data and Analytics Platform (NDAP), 2020 by NITI Aayog (NITI Aayog, 2020) is a flagship initiative that lays down the aim of democratizing access to public government data through a world-class user experience, by standardizing data, providing flexible analytics and ensuring ease of accessibility. 

Mentioning the challenges of incoherence and lack of user-centric publishing of data, the document outlines an approach that includes standardization of data across multiple Government sources, providing flexible analytics, and making it easily accessible in formats conducive for research, innovation, policymaking, and public consumption. The aim is to draw inspiration from the best platforms around the world; build on the success of existing Indian data platforms (e.g. www.data.gov.in and DISHA –  https://rural.nic.in/disha); pursue a user-centric approach to providing access to data, and;  provide access to data from multiple sectors in one place. Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) will be developed to keep data updated. The governance structure lists:

  • a High-Powered Steering Committee under the chairmanship of Vice-Chairman, NITI Aayog to provide direction, oversee progress, guide on data sources, and address various inter-ministerial issues on collating data. 
  • a Technical Advisory Group consisting of sector and technology experts to provide expert consultation on the development of the platform, management of data, and alignment of the platform for user needs. 
  • a Project Management Unit to coordinate with different stakeholders and manage various facets of NDAP, and,
  • A technology vendor will be engaged in the development and operation of the NDAP.

As stated in the Union Budget 2020-21 speech, 

“There is a growing need for the Indian Statistical system to meet the challenges of real-time monitoring of our increasingly complex economy. Data must have strong credibility.  The proposed new National Policy on Official Statistics would use the latest technology including AI. It would lay down a road-map towards modernized data collection, integrated information portal and timely dissemination of information.”

Official Sectoral Economic Statistics: Analysis and Discussion


The lack of timely, credible and reliable data has time and again led to debates and counter-debates from the government and scholarly community alike. Some of the recent contestations have arisen due to discrepancies in the empirical evidence linking microeconomics with the macroeconomic realities and to consider institutions and governance as important components of this analysis of statistical systems. Since the data of different economic sectors are collected in different years, there exists no centralized system for harmonization of the data. An integrated, decentralized information system populated with granular data will enable data to be carried flexibly wherever required, queried, and analyzed in business contexts at all levels of governance for a deeper insight (Barman, 2016; Barman, 2018; Barman, 2020; Bhattacharya, 2019; Bhattacharya, 2020; Chandrasekhar, 2019; Dasgupta, 2002; Himanshu, 2019; Magazine, 2019a; MoSPI, 2015; Nagraj, 2015; Sen, 2020; Singh, 2019; Bhalla, 2019a; Bhalla, 2019b; Teltumbde, 2017). Further, discrepancies in the GDP data have questioned India’s quest for growth and development and taking the great leap forward in economic growth in the world (Anant, 2016; Debroy, 2019; Business Today, 2019; CSO, 2015; EPW, 2016b; EPW Engage, 2019; Nagraj, 2017a; PTI, 2016; Rajakumar & Shetty, 2016; Subramanium & Josh, 2019; Teltumbde, 2017; Times of India, 2019; Verma, 2016; Waghmare, 2018). 

Even for the macroeconomic indicators from the RBI’s trends and progress of banking in India and flow funds accounts and national accounts, critiques and discrepancies have been highlighted in the literature (Rao, 2017; Rao, 2018).

The recent and aforementioned debacle on the employment data architecture has brought India’s problem of huge unemployment to the forefront (Basu, 2019; Himanshu, 2019; Kapoor, 2017; Kapoor, 2018; Kapoor, 2019; Mehta & Kumar, 2019a; Mehta & Kumar, 2019c; Mehta & Awasthi, 2019b; Mehta et al., 2020; Bhalla, 2019a; Bhalla, 2019b). It is only in the absence of proper data that targeted and precise policy measures cannot be curated to tackle unemployment in the country.

A more worrying story now emerges for the NSS Consumption Expenditure data which is used for assessing poverty and inequality, for which the report of the recent round held in 2018 has not been released yet. (Himanshu, 2019; Mazumdar et al, 2017; Mehta & Kumar, 2019b; Bhalla, 2019a; Bhalla, 2019b). There have also been arguments, especially by Bhalla (2019a&b) that the NSS estimates suffer from serious methodological issues on account of under-estimation. Bhalla terms the results of NSS as ‘a statistical embarrassment’ and ‘truly bizarre’.

A similar debate has also arisen over the Aadhaar data and processes (EPW, 2016a; Mathews, 2016; Prakash, 2016; UIDAI, 2016). Interestingly, both sides of the debate have been raised, and this necessitates a resolution through in-depth research and evidence presented in the form of white papers.

In the agriculture and allied sectors, the lack of a proper database acts as an impediment to the implementation and success of all related policies and schemes on the ground (Mehta & Kumar, 2017; Shetty et al., 1968). Even in the latest scheme PM-KISAN where direct benefit transfer support is given to the farmers, the lack of any database or register is largely affecting the implementation and monitoring process. 

Even the industry sector is beset with challenges of discrepancies and methodological issues in manufacturing. Dynamic changes (Industry 4.0 & Future of work) and reconfiguration have been highlighted in the backdrop of the Make in India mission (Bedi & Banerjee, 2007; Mehta & Awasthi, 2019b; Nagraj, 2017b; Nagraj et al., 2018). 

The service sector, which has become the core of the economy, encompasses many dynamic sectors and has been under larger focus since the last decade (Nagraj, 2009; Nagraj, 2015). Further, service sector estimates are now also based on the dynamic MCA frame for larger compliance and methodological improvements. The MCA has made it mandatory for every company to update their location by geotagging. 

The definitional issues for the unorganized sector are creating measurement issues, especially with technological upgradation and capacity of the authorities to bring them into formal sectors, which has been also underlined as the silver lining, this can be ascertained through PAN, GST, EPFO, ESIC, PFRDA, among others (Borgohain, 2017; Mazumdar, 2008; Nagraj, 2016; NSC, 2012, NCEUS, 2008). Nonetheless, the conditions and social security of this sector remain the major challenge. 

There is no proper national-level registry for people involved in informal jobs or sectors, such as vegetable vendors, construction workers, rickshaw pullers, auto-rickshaw drivers, temporary staff and so on, and there is an urgent need for these registries to be instituted and updated, using latest digital technologies and innovations, along with a dynamic unemployment registry to provide direct economic (universal basic income), health (universal coverage) and other necessary contingency protection and security support (Mehta & Kumar, 2020c). Similarly, there is an urgent need to maintain a dynamic registry for the migrants to prepare a database, supplemented with their skill sets and job requirement details for greater usage (Mehta & Kumar, 2020d).

Other official statistics including sanitation, education, health, and housing as well as administrative statistics and Management Information Systems (MIS) also have a plethora of discrepancies arising from official sources, highlighting leakages, non-transparency and credibility issues (Kumar, 2014; Kumar, 2015; Kumar, 2016; Kundu & Kumar, 2017; Mehta & Kumar, 2019c; Mehta et al., 2020; Singh & George, 2017).

All this reflects the inefficient and inept system of statistics management and calls for immediate redressal. Although this has been incorporated in the vision documents, the execution and progress towards these need to be demonstrated with collective confidence.

It must be noted that the Program Implementation part of MoSPI is regressive. It is still dependent upon the 20-point program of the year 2006, over which each year the progress is made. Therefore, with changing times and agenda precision, it is important to review the program objectives, to provide fresh insights into the achievements and also provide a way forward to address the gaps.

It is the first time that we are gearing up for a digital census – both the Population Census and Economic Census (already under process), and the National Population Register (NPR) will decide the actual frame. The importance of NPR cannot be underrated. While NPR was used for the first time in 2010, the issue has become so contentious over the past 4-5 months, it becomes doubtful whether the citizens would provide accurate and voluntary information or not, or it will simply become a lengthy and futile exercise to produce a good database,

Linking of the Census and NPR raises technical and operational questions, for instance, in 2011, the NPR tagged to the house-listing schedule had serious coverage issues, with about 60 million people missing, and this coupled with the fact that the NPR data is certainly not required for targeting purposes raises the question of its utility, since it is collected at enormous physical and financial costs when Aadhaar-based biometric identification numbers with higher coverage are already available (Kumar & Mohanan, 2020).


From the above discussion, it is clear that there are several sources of data in India, among which the major ones are MoSPI’s CSO, NSO, Economic Census, Agriculture Census, ASI, and others. It needs to be mentioned here that the methodology of estimation of national accounts is almost a decade old, and in the absence of updated data, the sub-national accounts are being hindered due to the non-incorporation of the latest data. In such a situation, the absence of clarity of the statistics hinders the work of the researchers and remains futile for even the DES, which otherwise could have enabled them to arrive at robust and insightful state or district estimates. Based on the relevant updated methodology for estimation by the CSO, which the DES takes time to comprehend, the latter tends to come up with consolidated data after several years, for instance, the data on the beneficiaries of any government scheme, data on migration (released after 10 years), among others. This leads to a loss in utility and purpose since under the prevailing situation several updates on the existing data have already taken place. As a result, there emerges a vicious circle of delay in data production and the consequent addition of backlogs of the latest data. In this age of digital information, the private sector is much better equipped and is racing ahead of the public sector in generating data. This has further strengthened the state versus market debate. This type of bureaucratic complexity is unique to India and is unseen in any developed or emerging economy. China, for example, invites a global audience when it releases and presents the country’s quarterly and annual estimates. Such an exercise infuses credibility and consistency in data, ushering in trust among the people, as a smooth program implementation is entirely dependent upon it. In the absence of such a mechanism in India, appropriate planning for government work cannot be done and hence ambitious projects often evaporate into thin air. This has lately brought the entire system of statistics – from the government to the grassroots – under a lot of criticism. 

Therefore, it is important to have annual white papers produced by each district, and competition must be instilled among the districts on which district produces the best and first data. For this, more financial empowerment of the MoSPI is needed, which will cater to the various challenges in terms of data production and re-instill the sense of it being a trustworthy, professional, and credible institution in the minds of the people.

As India traversed from the five-year plans of the erstwhile Planning Commission to the short-, medium- and long-term vision reports of the NITI Aayog, one thing remained unchanged, i.e., dependency on the decadal Census data for its various plan measures. As we move towards New India with a US$ 5 trillion economy, it becomes important to incorporate, report, and disseminate data for their proper utilization, application and furtherance of research and development. In the age of Randomized Control Trials (RCTs) and experimental methods for evidence-based policymaking, monitoring and evaluation, as well as evidence-based research, suffer in the absence of adequate data, periodic monitoring, reporting, and evaluation. As a result, the situation of the availability and coherence of financial and fiscal data becomes more complex and cumbersome.

The Indian Statistical System is faced with real-time and complex challenges. For instance, for the first time, the Census would be recorded on handheld devices. MoSPI has been using these devices for all its surveys for some time now. However several experts have raised doubts on the estimates and credibility of data produced through such exercises. It has been mentioned that not every government report must be accepted, as sometimes institutions fail to produce a credible report. Sometimes it must be recognized that the statistical institution of a country can fail the most basic of ‘smell’ tests and is in dire need of reforms (Bhalla, 2019). As mentioned above, there are no sectors left untouched by questions on the credibility of their data. However, these experts have been shown to switch positions and arguments on the credibility debate of the statistics, thereby presenting serious concerns about the integrity of the data in front of the whole world.

Despite the criticisms, there can be no denying that the official economic statistics continue to remain the most valued, appropriate, rich and reliable for informed research and policymaking.

When criticized for the declining growth of the economy, the government has on several occasions produced counter-facts from other sources of non-traditional indicators/statistics like the MUDRA, Foreign Direct Investment, Jan Dhan Yojana, GST, etc. Through these indicators, it has been shown that the number of beneficiaries who actually benefited from the flagship schemes have increased, and hence have contributed to the growth of the country. Therefore, all available and comparative data sources must be incorporated while making any argument or perspective.

Due to a perceived lag in decadal Census data and the periodicity accrued due to it, a credibility crisis of data was also experienced in the mid-to-late 1990s. As a result, the interim reform mechanism for statistics came with the establishment of the NSC in the year 2000. Although the Census remains the most credible and rich source of information for almost all experts, its reading, understanding, analysis, and reporting presents changes as per convenience. 

Instead of organizing hackathons and competitions to crack big data, etc., the focus must be on making the statistical architecture more open and credible. This is because official data is used primarily by researchers and policymakers, and hence a sense of trust and confidence must be built between the two so that experts/specialists committed to the cause of harnessing official data for the greater good are effectively utilized by the government. This must not be done by simply outsourcing the survey requirements to some other government agency, but instead, new dedicated private professional organizations must be handheld to develop their potential at par with international standards to cater to the new economy in India and abroad. Only then, India would lead by example, or become the “Vishwa Guru”.

The Urban Frame Survey, Village Frame, etc. must be upgraded for real-time information and made more dynamic, as they are used time and again. There must be a convergence of the programs and schemes of the ministries, and space application centers for better coordination of geo-tagging of data, data visualization and optimum resource utilization, so that the statisticians, economists and policymakers can comprehend the Spatial Economics for producing professional data and planned smart development. 

The coming of the era of Industry 4.0, AI, blockchain and the gig economy has further pushed for the need for new forms of data. In the business-as-usual scenario, it will be difficult to adapt to the needs of the changing methodology, and hence there is a need to revamp the entire gamut of data estimation.

On several occasions in India, the economic changes are attributed to the business or seasons or structural or simply natural or cyclical factors. This inability to acknowledge the real reasons behind the changes leads to speculation and loss of trust in the economy and government.

The surveys of NSO being the central sample also provide for and encourage state governments to conduct state samples by DES, to arrive at pooled sample data with a higher sample size for robust local-level estimates. This pooled data is very crucial and the need of the hour for local economic planning, implementation, monitoring and development. But there is hardly any volition from the DES to conduct state samples and hence the local-level estimates lag in the absence of such data. 

Conclusions and Way Forward

The government departments and programs acknowledge and explain that there are possibilities of over-reporting at the local levels, which suggests that the data entry processes have been fabricated on a very large scale leading to false data reporting in the past and thus needs to be carefully checked in future. The programs and schemes also focus on timely achievement; therefore, they require stringent measures to ensure that the data provided at the local and state level on the MIS database must not suffer from false reporting and that the credibility of these important administrative statistics is restored. This is because ICT will be extensively used in the days to come with the requirements of new sources of data, for example, payroll data, night lights data, GIS data, mobile phones, and big data.

In this situation, the limitations in capturing the new sectors of the gig economy and in the sectoral level data collection as well as addressing the multiple sources of structural issues becomes imperative.

The commendable contribution of MoSPI in producing the Swachh Survekshan 2016 to understand the impact of the Swachh Bharat Mission must be replicated for generating each of the various other datasets in a similar proactive fashion. While several outcomes of the Swachh Survekshan can be contested, the timeliness adhered to understanding the implications of the government scheme cannot be underrated. Only when such a proactive approach of MoSPI is visible, then the program implementation part exhibit vibrancy and dynamism.

The MIS data has taken cognizance of these issues and made several recommendations for improvements in monitoring such as maintaining names, initiatives using ICT technology with information on the geographical location and so on. However, the actual usage of these along with time-bound reporting happens to be very low. While the role of ICT has helped to improve the system for information collection and monitoring, the massive scale at which this technology has to be used in a time-bound manner, especially in rural areas remains a challenge, along with concerns of professional data entry and ensuring quality.

The administrative/MIS database which provides periodic real-time information using ICT by every local level unit can be a very useful, effective, economical and sustainable source of information. The real-time information from MIS should be effectively used and applied to the geographic information system to analyze spatial information. It can also provide visualization to GPs which can be very useful for administrative purposes, spatial and micro-planning, and local resource management.

While the proposed upgradation of MIS to enable reporting is a step forward; past experiences with the information based on MIS provided by local levels raise a question on ‘reliability’ and suggest that focus is needed to ensure trust in this database maintained by the government offices. In the absence of trust, economic transactions in society are adversely impacted, ultimately yielding to a slowdown of economic activity, and eventually, stagnation (Singh, 2019).

The census-NPR debate, for instance, has become intertwined with other controversies over official Government data. This has portrayed the present decade as disastrous for public data in India and warrants an urgent response to uphold the integrity and credibility of our statistical institutions (Kumar & Mohanan, 2020). Therefore, India must strengthen the credibility of its national statistical system, and its plans to centralize the data in the MoSPI must be an informed and cautious exercise, as it can become a hurdle for its quick and timely release for public research and debate (Kundu, 2019).

There is an immediate need to strengthen and empower the Gram Panchayats, Blocks, and Districts with sufficient infrastructure, capacity building and resources for periodic, quality and sustainable data reporting and maintaining a reliable database at par with the international level and standards, MoSPI can certainly play a holistic role here.

Thus, more emphasis is needed on building processes and institutions at the very grassroots levels to ensure no leakages and act as a modern digital database for evidence-based policymaking and timely achievement of program output ensuring accountability and transparency. Constant monitoring and evaluation, as well as scrutiny and validation from various available official data sources at various disaggregated levels, is necessary along with village/district level studies on best practices.

Special attention for effective inclusion in implementation is needed towards backward districts, regions, and hamlets of marginalized sections within villages. The desired collective behavioral change also requires a change in the social climate and necessitates ‘behavior change’ within the government up to the local levels to create the enabling ecosystem. The implementation processes need to be packed up, raised civic conscience needs to be converted into a public movement and sustained for years ahead. The delay in work execution along with financial delays requires to be addressed immediately with effective monitoring and scrutiny with the help of MoSPI.

Since the Indian statistical system is severely underfunded and understaffed, large investments in terms of financial and human resources are urgently needed to strengthen the system (Chandrashekhar, 2019). These investments become pertinent to bring to reality the Prime Minister’s vision for a digital India. In this new digital India, the way data is collected, the way it is analyzed, and the way it is consumed needs serious reassessment. The need is to broaden the scope beyond its traditional role of keeping account of economic activity in the economy and instead focus on providing real-time business intelligence for informed policymaking. Having a common data architecture, based on accepted definitions, for every sector is important as it helps in reducing the cost of data collection, and facilitates informed and precise policy action to reach the targeted population.

Since there are so many changes and reform measures being undertaken in the country, we propose holding the census every five years instead of the present decadal system, as it also provides migration data at the district and town level (Kumar & Mohanan, 2020).

However, sufficient data is not available on the living arrangements of the migrants, and their economic or occupational engagements, especially at city levels. (Mohanan & Kumar, 2020). The Census does provide aggregated numbers with limited qualitative dimensions, but we do not have any intercensal surveys to project the census migration data before the next census (Mohanan and Kumar, 2020). Organizing such an intercensal survey, as done in many countries, can also mitigate this deficiency in the Indian data system to a large extent (Kumar & Mohanan, 2020). It will keep the information database updated and vibrant. Proper policy planning and decision-making can be ensured through this change.

Further, we recommend consistency in the calculation of the GDP data. The methodology adopted in the calculation of the data must be clarified and made coherent to avoid confusion by often changing the base years in determining the growth challenges and prospects of the country. Equally important for the government is to be punctual in the release of the data. It has been proposed that the government make a prior announcement of the timeline of the release of the data, and more importantly stick to it, which will help maintain its sanctity (Sen, 2020). This will demonstrate its commitment to facilitating appropriate measures for the benefit of the citizens through its various schemes.

The road to improving the credibility of official statistics would take a long time with a broad consensus that much will depend on effective leadership. Disentangling the overlapping functions of various statistical bodies and creating uniformity and cohesiveness in the duties and responsibilities along with empowering the NSC are the best steps forward to ensure credible, accessible, and legible economic statistics. MoSPI needs to regain and retain the authority over-collection and storage of data from the local level, and not let it become overly spread out.

The system of official economic statistics in India now faces the challenge of adapting to Information and Communication Technology. The paper thus emphasizes the role of strengthening real-time and Management Information Systems data to enable evidence-based policymaking and planning and realize the vision of ‘New India’ and a US$ 5 trillion economy.


This paper was presented at the 38th Annual Conference of the Indian Association for Research in National Income and Wealth (IARNIW) on 26 and 27 September 2020. The authors would like to thank the organizers and attendees for their constructive suggestions, in particular, Dr S. L. Shetty, Dr J. Dennis Rajakumar, Dr Shailja Sharma, Dr A. K. Laha and Rajiv Kumar. The authors are also grateful to P. C. Mohanan, Dr G. C. Manna, Prof. Sukhadeo Thorat, Prof. Govind Kelkar, Prof. Amitabh Kundu, Prof. Alakh N. Sharma, Ajaya Kumar Naik, Dr Sandip Sarkar, Dr Balwant Singh Mehta, Dr Soumyadip Chattopadhyay, Sameer Unhale, Dr Rashmi Singh and Dr Nitin Tagade for their insightful comments. This research has been carried out by the Generation Alpha Data Centre (Gen-α DC) under the Impact and Policy Research Institute (IMPRI), New Delhi.


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Economic & Political WEEKLY. 2016b. Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics. Economic & Political WEEKLY. Vol. 51. Issue No. 24. 11 Jun, 2016. Available at:  https://www.epw.in/journal/2016/24/editorials/lies-damn-lies-and-statistics.html,  Accessed on 13 June 2020.

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Kundu, A. and Kumar, A. 2018. Cost-benefit analysis of housing vertical interventions for urban poor in large cities of Andhra Pradesh. Andhra Pradesh Priorities. An India Consensus Prioritization Project. Tata Trusts & Copenhagen Consensus Center. Available at:   https://www.copenhagenconsensus.com/sites/default/files/ap_social_housing_formatted_sm.pdf,  Accessed on 13 June 2020. 

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Mehta, B. S. and A. Kumar 2019c. Jobs Data Reveal Highest Urban Unemployment, But More Formal Jobs. IndiaSpend. June 26, 2019. Available at:    https://www.indiaspend.com/jobs-data-reveal-highest-urban-unemployment-but-more-formal-jobs/, Accessed on 13 June 2020.

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Mehta, B. S. and A. Kumar. 2020b. Covid-19 and the lockdown impact: Estimating the unemployment and job losses in India’s informal economy. The Times of India. April 13, 2020. Available at:  https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/blogs/red-button-day-light/covid-19-and-the-lockdown-impact-estimating-the-unemployment-and-job-losses-in-indias-informal-economy/, Accessed on 13 June 2020.

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Mehta, B. S. and A. Kumar. 2020d. Estimation and skill mapping of migrant workers. The Times of India. June 20, 2020.  Available at:  https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/blogs/red-button-day-light/estimation-and-skill-mapping-of-migrant-workers/, Accessed on 13 June 2020.

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