By Krishna Jha
The government has refused to accept the numbers that showed the falling affordability of the common masses to meet even the essentials. In its denial, the government has openly gone into politicizing Hunger.
The credibility of the source of the data, the NSSO, remains beyond questioning. These institutions were built up to secure our democracy. The refusal, in one stroke, has posed a challenge to the objectivity and hence independence that the statistical institutions needed to secure our democracy,
The findings of the report of the household consumer expenditure survey (CES) conducted by the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) in 2017-18 have been denied entry in the public domain on grounds of “data quality issues”. The survey, one in the chain of such initiatives taken up by NSSO to provide data for assessing Living Standard Measurements, has always been accepted by the World Bank and other international agencies, especially to know the rate of affordability, a pointer to rate of consumption, that in turn brings to light the status of employment. The rising rate of unemployment is linked with the rate of impoverishment.
The act of scrapping comes from an inherent fear. It is fear in facing the truth. Hence has emerged a regularity with which the act is repeated every time when faced with genuine findings. It was there when the government had decided to suppress the findings of the periodic labour force survey. In fact the step is also taken whenever the findings stand adverse to whatever the government wants the common masses to believe. It is more about the public domain than the reality of suffering masses that the government appears to have concern.
The grimness of the findings brings to light the shocks and gaps caused by the imposition of GST and the Demonetisation because the survey was conducted during that time only.
The survey has revealed that consumer spending in rural areas has shown a fast decline in more than last forty years, since 1970s. It had plummeted to 8.8 percent in the year July 2017 to June 2018 in the rural areas. Almost half a century later, since 1971-73, for the first time, the survey came up with extreme decline in consumption rates depicting a famine like situation. The information got leaked out from a survey report from NSSO, already scrapped by the government. The grounds given were that the data collected were based on ‘adverse findings’. The government denied any intentional scrapping and said that like any other data, these findings also went through vetting and scrapping was merely the result. However, the reports coming out since last several months also show the rate of unemployment going up sharply at 6.1 percent in the year 2017-18, which was the highest in last 45 years. The report was examined by national statistical commission in detail, but was not allowed to get released. To this, the explanation that came from the Centre was that it was not a ‘report’, only a ‘draft’.
According to the revelations in the media citing a NSSO survey report titled ‘Key Indicators: Household Consumer Expenditure in India’, the average spending of a citizen in the country in a month has fallen to 3.7 percent, which is Rs 1446 in 2017-18 from Rs 1501 in 2011-12. The report also pointed out that in rural areas, it came down by 8.8 percent in 2017-18.
The ministry of statistics and program implementation has decided to go into ‘refinement’ of data quality for the next consumer expenditure survey in 2020-2021 and 2021-2022. The fact is quality of data cannot be interfered with. Any attempt to refine it destroys its accountability.
In yet another statement, the advisory committee on national accounts statistics has come out with a recommendation that for rebasing of GDP data series, 2017-18 is not appropriate as the base year. There has been a caution against it from the economists that due to imposition of GST and demonetization, the year has seized to be a ‘normal year’.
The withholding of the NSSO survey has its own consequential effects. These reports are followed by the states/UTs with the same survey designs, though with their own resources. The pooled samples offer information at the district level. After the scrapping of the present report, the surveys done by the states/UTs also might face the same fate.
Then, despite the scrapping of the survey results, the dip in consumption demand would remain, and along with it the steady slide in investment activity. It is evidenced by a nearly 30 per cent drop in capital expenditure by the government in the June 2019 quarter alongside a near halving of new project announcements by India Inc. (IPA Service)