Former deputy chairman of Planning Commission Montek Singh Ahluwalia, and Pronab Sen, former chairman of National Statistical Commission have both disagreed with the observation of NITI Aayog vice-chairman Rajiv Kumar that Planning Commission, Niti Aayog's predecessor entity, was itself involved in the release of statistical data during the UPA regime.
Responding to Kumar's interview published by Financial Express today, Ahluwalia said that "it is simply not true that I or the Planning Commission ever cleared or approved Statistical reports". "The whole point of setting up an independent system was to get the government out of clearance and to fix a time by which the report is released. The recent practice of bringing in the Niti Ayog into the clearance function ignoring the Commission is totally retrograde. It reduces the credibility of our official statistical system," Ahluwalia said.
Niti Aayog was in the eye of storm after two of the technical members of the National Statistical Commission (NSC), including its acting chairman P C Mohanan resigned from their posts in protest against the delay in publishing the findings of the jobs survey carried out by the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO). While reports based on the job survey later suggested a fall in employment generation in the country after the government's demonetisation move in 2016, Niti Aayog had tried to play down the leaked numbers by stating the report was not yet final, but just a draft. In the FE interview, Kumar had stated that Niti Aayog will try to seek a more formal role for the think-tank to improve the quality of government data collected, collated and released by the NSSO after approvals from bodies like NSC today.
Pronab Sen said any formal role for Niti Aayog will set a bad precedent. "It is pretty serious. At the end of the day, the kind of statistics the government put out cannot be cross-checked by anybody. Because you cannot replicate that. So the credibility of the government statistics depends upon giving people the assurance that this data has not been subjected to any political interference. If that image is lost, then you are looking at a serious credibility issue," Sen said.
According to him, Niti Aayog's attempt "is extremely dangerous and should be strongly resisted".
Sen also pointed out that the the statistical system, the way it is run in India and anywhere else today, brings in domain expertise whenever it is needed for any particular data point. "If you look at the expert committees that are set up by MOSPI (ministry of statistics and programme implementation), there will always have an economist there. They will have technical experts. If it is health, you will have health experts. The impression that Rajiv Kumar is trying to build, that statistical system doesn't have the expertise, is completely wrong," he said.