- On 23rd May 2019, in a major restructuring move, the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation has decided to merge the Central Statistics Office (CSO) and the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) into National Statistical Office (NSO)
- The merger to create an entity called the National Statistical Organisation (NSO) is to streamline and strengthen the present nodal function of MOSPI with respect to Indian official statistics system and to bring in more synergy by integrating its administrative functions within the ministry.
- According to the order, Statistical Wing, comprising the NSO with constituents as the CSO and the NSSO, to be an integral part of the main ministry i.e The ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation
- It stated that the NSO would be headed by Secretary Statistics and Programme Implementation, with various divisions reporting to the Secretary through Director Generals (DGs).
The National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO)
- It was established in 1950 at the instance of professor P.C. Mahalanobis.
- The NSSO came under the Ministry of Statistics and Program Implementation.
- It was then thought to be the need of the hour to develop a sound, impartial, unbiased and independent macro statistical data and information generating system on various socio-economic dimensions of the country, to enable an Indian planning process to start in 1951.
- The NSSO was then organised purely outside of the government, as part of the Indian Statistical Institute, as an independent, non-bureaucratic, national level socio-economic data gathering organisation, based on sound, scientific and completely unbiased sample survey methods, across the country, to be delivered by competent trained statisticians.
- Professor Mahalanobis personally used to supervise this process.
- The spirit of independence of this statistical data gathering system continued till 1972.
- The NSSO would feed analysed data on various indicators such as savings and consumption patterns, unemployment, rural and urban prices, industrial production, land use patterns, land holdings, crop yield information, several demographic information and many others.
The Possible effect of Centralization of Data
- With the merger of both bodies access to data from the NSSO is primarily for official use by the MoSPI and perhaps the NITI Aayog.
- This merger will enable government agencies including the NITI Aayog to get a quick hand on the information system – for use or abuse.
- The chief statistician has indicated that one major justification for joining the NSSO and CSO is that it will bring about administrative ease.
- Secondly, centralisation of data in the ministry can become a hurdle for quick and timely release of the data for public research and debate.
When the reformed statistical system was first proposed?
- In 2000, a committee headed by former Reserve Bank of India (RBI) governor C. Rangarajan suggested the establishment of NSO as the nodal body for all core statistical activities.
- It would have worked under the National Statistical Commission (NSC), which was to be answerable to Parliament, not the government.
- The intent was to clean up collection, calculation and dissemination of data.
- NSC was set up in June 2005, but didn’t have a statutory role.
- It was given supervisory powers over one arm of the statistical system, NSSO.
- The idea of an NSO that would include NSSO and CSO was not effected.
India’s growth numbers and the data systems
- The present government has been accused of fudging growth numbers and tinkering with jobs data that would have shown it in poor light.
- Numbers are sacrosanct and international organizations rely on them to arrive at their own estimates for a country’s growth trajectory and economic potential.
- These estimates help them make decisions related to investments and trade.
- The last straw came in January when two NSC members resigned because they felt NSSO was delaying the release of a jobs report at the behest of MoSPI, though NSC had cleared it.
Implications of The Merger
- The merger of CSO and NSSO is an entity separate from Ministry of Statistics and Program Implementation (MOSPI)—will take away the its autonomy.
- The order seems to suggest NSC’s independent oversight mechanism will no longer exist and makes no mention of that. The order clearly puts the merged entity under MoSPI secretary, raising questions about the independence of the process through which official survey data is collected and published.
Experts view about “The Revamp”
- Some observers call it a bid to junk NSC and say this is in reaction to the resignations at NSC earlier this year that embarrassed the government.
- Another view is that NSC will come back in a different avatar, perhaps backed by a law, as was envisaged by the Rangarajan panel.
This would make it a more effective body. Mospi said the new framework would streamline and bolster its present nodal functions and bring in more synergy by integrating its administrative functions within the ministry.