The Indian Statistical Data System is Not Reliable! Should be Revamped!

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  • Make no mistake, the majority of the Indian people will never receive any statistics released by the official administrative machinery at face value for the simple reason that they are not accurate. There is a well-ensconced general belief amongst the citizens that whatever statistics are released in the country is fudged and hence, absorbed with a pinch of salt always. The narration has not changed despite the mechanism making rapid strides on the back of technology-based solutions readily available. This belief must have got amplified during the devastating Covid waves over the last eighteen months or so.

PC: freepik

  • Right from the number of tests undertaken to the deaths reported during the pandemic has been anything but accurate. Underreporting on both counts was plainly visible all through. Against this backdrop, two independent proceedings underway in the Supreme Court have brought the state of India’s statistical system into focus yet again. No wonder, the sharp divergence between some states’ official Covid toll and the higher number of compensation claims accepted by them has raised questions on India’s mortality statistics. In a similar vein, the Apex Court’s questions directed at the Government of India on starvation deaths, while hearing a plea for a national policy on community kitchens, point to an unsatisfactory state of affairs too.
  • No surprises there either. For the uninitiated, India had an early start in collating vital statistics of the population. Mind you, the process began in the 19th century. Subsequently, in 1969, recording of these details was made mandatory through statutory backing. Note that the Civil Registration System (CRS) is overseen by the Government of India but run by states. It aims to be a comprehensive database on births and deaths, but the quality varies sharply across states. CRS 2019, the last available one, estimates India had 8.3 million deaths, of which 92% were registered. Over time, there has been palpable progress in registering births and deaths.

PC: medical dialogues

  • However, when it comes to medically certified deaths, India regressed even before the pandemic. Consequently, only 20.7% of the registered deaths in 2019 were medically certified, a lower proportion than the 21.1% and 22% recorded in the preceding years. Further, the national average masks sharp interstate variation as well. If 100% of deaths were medically certified in Goa, it was less than 10% in Bihar, Jharkhand, and Uttar Pradesh which are notorious for fudging data. This level of inconsistency harms both individuals and policy. Thus, compensation for Covid deaths or allocation of resources to combat malnutrition largely depends on the accuracy of data.
  • However, the gaps in India’s statistical system are undermining the effectiveness of policymaking. Look not far than the absence of household consumption surveys for a decade where realignment of consumer price index or consistent poverty estimates is not possible. The bane of the problem is the absence of relevant statistics as well as the related issue of politicization of release. This situation often leads to holding back the scheduled release of data because it doesn’t fit into an ideal narrative. Sticking to scheduled timelines of release as well as the accuracy of collated data is an essential part of building credibility. As such, emphasizing building India’s statistical apparatus on accuracy is imperative. Hopefully, the authorities will consider the same seriously.

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Krishna MV
Krishna is a Post Graduate with specialization in English Literature and Human Resource Management, respectively. Having served the Indian Air Force with distinction for 16 years, Armed Forces background definitely played a very major role in shaping as to who & what he is right now. Presently, he is employed as The Administrator of a well known educational institute in Bangalore. He is passionate about sharing thoughts by writing articles on the current affairs / topics with insightful dissection and offering counter / alternate views thrown in for good measure. Also, passionate about Cricket, Music – especially vintage Kannada & Hindi film songs, reading – non-fictional & Self-Help Books, and of course, fitness without compromising on the culinary pleasures.