9 Sep :The Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh addressed the Conference of States and UTs on Management of Statistics here today. Following is the text of the Prime Minister’s address on the occasion:
“I compliment the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation for organizing this very important conference to discuss the organisation and management of statistics in our country. The acquisition, processing and dispersal of information are essential activities for any modern State to perform its role of economic management.
It is of special importance in an open economy where information needs to be made available to non-government stakeholders. Information contributes to knowledge. Information also confers power. Information is undoubtedly a great economic asset.
As our economy modernises, the different arms of government and every economic actor, be it a farmer or a worker, a domestic or foreign investor, or a consumer, or a researcher, all of them need accurate and reliable information. Reliable statistical data are of crucial importance for the formulation of macro-economic policies and programmes and for assessing the impact of specific policies in terms of achieving their goals and objectives. Thus all countries today lay a great deal of emphasis on compilation of statistics relating to national income, investment and savings, production, prices, employment and unemployment. A sound statistical base is also essential for assessing the trend of income and wealth distribution in our country. Reliable statistics are necessary not only for economic decision making. Democratic governments also have a responsibility to consciously promote information sharing policies, which make information more widely available. These policies must close the divides between the information-haves and the information have-nots. Our government has pursued the sharing of information as a public good. The Right to Information Act takes the commitment to provide information beyond the standard domain of providing good quality statistics to the domain of revealing the functioning of government or the process of decision making itself.
The major custodian of information in our country is obviously the government. A good statistical system of the government provides the foundation of a good public information infrastructure. Our country has been fortunate in having a highly credible statistical system put in place right after our Independence. Eminent persons like Professor Mahalanobis, Professor Sukhatme and Professor Rao have been responsible for this great service to our country. Institutions like the National Sample Survey Organization, the Central Statistical Organization and the State Statistical Bureaus have also played a very important role.
The quality of our National Sample Surveys and Censuses helped our country to take a leading position in international statistical forums. Our statistical base has played an important role in decision-making and has contributed to our planned economic development. But we cannot rest on our laurels.
In the past, much of our statistical data was obtained through the powers and authority granted to the administrative system by a variety of laws which provided for regular submission of information to the Government. For instance, the industrial licensing regime required periodic submission of fairly comprehensive data on a range of indicators which were essential to our industrial statistics. Since the removal of industrial licensing in the early 90s, such compulsion no longer exists and data flows for industrial statistics have largely become voluntary and in the process probably have weakened considerably. In addition, the massive upsurge in entrepreneurial activity over the last one and a half decades the growth of service industries on a massive scale have led to rapid growth in the number of industrial and service establishments in the country. It is now clear, therefore, that alternate methods of generating industrial data will have to be evolved, and that there would have to be a collaborative arrangement between the Centre and the State Governments.
Similar problems exist with regard to agricultural data, which relies heavily on the old land revenue system and the functionaries who were charged with collection and maintenance of the requisite information. With the weakening of the land revenue system the estimates of land use, which are central to any estimate of agricultural production, have become increasingly unreliable. New and innovative ways, therefore, will need to be evolved to tackle this important gap in our statistical system. Satellite imagery does provide an exciting option but we are still not at a stage where we can rely entirely upon remote sensing data to substitute for our weaknesses on the ground.
Our Government is firmly committed to strengthening our statistical system and we have taken several steps in this direction. My friends Professor C. Rangarajan and Dr Suresh Tendulkar have been engaged in this noble exercise for several years. I compliment them for their self-less service to the cause of our Nation. The recommendations of the National Statistical Commission have been an important guide for strengthening our statistical system.
The usually accepted attributes of good quality official statistics are accuracy, reliability and completeness of coverage. But users’ perceptions regarding the impartiality and authenticity of statistics is also important for enhancing adequate degree of credibility. It is with this objective that our Government decided to establish an arm’s length relationship with official statistics by setting up an autonomous and permanent National Statistical Commission. This Commission has been brought into existence through a government notification, and it is working on a statute to institutionalize its status.
National statistics need to be supplemented by State level statistics which would allow comparable analysis of economic problems and performance at the level of individual States. I urge State Governments to put in place an effective arrangement to monitor the collection of state level statistics which would enhance their credibility and reliability and I am happy to learn that some State Governments have already set up high level technical committees to oversee and monitor the preparation of official statistics. I urge all other States to follow suit.
We have to constantly review the quality of our system and of our statistics. We need to keep pace with new technology and with demands of the consumers of information.
Let me highlight two major areas for your urgent consideration. The first relates to coordination between the Central Statistical Organization and Central Ministries; and also between State Statistical Bureaus and Ministries in teh States and Union Territories. The second relates to the administrative machinery for data collection.
Both these areas require considerable reorganization of public administration and reallocation of administrative priorities. They require a strengthening of technical capabilities at the ground level and greater attention being paid at the highest executive level.
Along with establishing an autonomous National Statistics Commission we have given independent Departmental status to Statistics. I urge State and UT Governments to establish and institutionalize effective coordination mechanisms by empowering State Statistical Bureaus to play the nodal role of vertical and horizontal coordination of statistical data. They must generate timely and reliable official statistics at the State level.
This task assumes critical importance given the observation of the National Statistical Commission that “Over the years, the administrative statistical system has been deteriorating and has now almost collapsed in certain sectors”. In particular, the Commission identifies four sectors, namely, agriculture, labour, industry and commerce, where deterioration has taken place at the very first stage of primary data collection. The Commission felt that the lowest level local functionaries of these ministries are over-burdened with work and are therefore neglecting the collection of data.
It is time for corrective action therefore both at the national as well as state level. We must seek urgent improvement in all these sectors identified by the National Commission. We must improve the conditions of work and training of the lowest level statistical functionaries involved in the collection, recording, storage, retrieval, processing and dissemination of primary statistical data.
The efficiency of data storage can be vastly improved with computerisation. I understand that a centrally sponsored scheme for this purpose has been made part of the Eleventh Five Year Plan. But, this, by itself, would not help in improving the quality of official data unless greater importance is attached to the statistical activities of primary data collection and recording.
Government is both a producer and consumer of information. To be effective in public policy, we also need to promote multiple sources of information. The Government of India has dramatically increased the scale of funding for flagship programmes in the areas of education, health and rural development. But we need independent evaluations of many of these programmes based on data that is generated both by government and by others. At present the evaluation function is dispersed over several wings of our government. The Ministries in-charge of the programme do some evaluation but this cannot be called independent. The Programme Evaluation Organisation of the Planning Commission also does some ex-post facto evaluation. But there is need for much stronger system of Independent Evaluation that will report on the progress of these major flagship programmes in the areas of employment, education and health that will not only monitor progress against targets but also suggest ways and means of improving performance to produce better results. The skills required for programme redesign are very different from those required to monitor programmes. We need development and research institutions coordinated at the apex by a knowledge institution. Ideally the government should be at arms length from the process of independent evaluation and we should make full use of common talent pool which exists in our Universities, management or research institutions and also in our NGOs. I am asking the Planning Commission, the Ministry of Finance and the Department of Statistics to collectively work out details for setting up such an institutional mechanism.
The Central Government is also examining our data sharing policies to bring all non-strategic information in the public domain. A pro-active policy of disclosure will be in keeping with the spirit of the Right to Information Act. Information collected at huge cost, with the tax payers’ money, should be made available to the general public without their having to ask for it. This will improve the quality of the data as it will be subject to informed public scrutiny.
Government is often called a good collector of information but a poor user of it. It is also a poor presenter of information. Information presented must be organized from the potential user’s point of view. High levels of computer literacy, kept updated with software tools, are therefore essential.
I sincerely hope that all these issues will be discussed in detail at your Conference. I hope that your deliberations will help to put in place a collaborative institutional arrangement that enables the Central, State and Union Territory governments to come together regularly in pursuit of the goal of ensuring the credibility and reliability of our statistical system. I would like your Conference to prepare a roadmap for strengthening the statistical system at the State and UT level.
I look forward to the outcome of your deliberations and I wish you all success.”