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Statistical Limbo

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It is interesting to note that in the cut and thrust of arguments in the Lok and Rajya Sabhas, members of, both, the Treasury and Opposition benches complain about lack of statistics and other data regarding the issues under discussion. Whether it is data on the state of the Indian economy or the number and nature of the workforce, the exact figures are either not known or are contested. The figures quoted, particularly by the opposition, are from studies made by foreign universities, think tanks or interest groups. This raises the obvious question about the inputs that go into decision making in this country. One reason being quoted for the mess is the complicated nature of governance in the country, with many subjects being on the concurrent list, with responsibility becoming diluted between the Centre and the States. Take, for instance, figures on the number of people in the workforce, their area of work, migration patterns, remuneration, etc. In the age of Aadhar and widespread access to the internet, compilation and transmission of data should not be a problem, but these facilities are obviously not being used in the appropriate manner. So many welfare schemes can fall well short of their goals simply because the fundamental numbers are not available at the planning stage. This can be seen, for instance, in the barely half fulfilled goal of the Atal Ayushman Scheme in Uttarakhand. On the face of it, though, there are so many data bases, but these are full of contradictions caused mainly by the cumbersome ways of bureaucracy. Does Uttarakhand’s labour department, for instance, have records of the state’s workforce? If it did, it would be possible to know which sector the workers are in, if they receive their many legal benefits, the level of productivity, nature of work, etc. But even this basic exercise is not carried out. It is true that creating fresh cyber databases from old documentation is a technological challenge, but at least the necessary efforts should be on. It is no surprise that an exercise like the NRC in Assam has proved to be such a mess, with nobody being satisfied with the result. The bureaucracy at every level lacks the skills to pick out and interlink information from old documentation so that it could become a useful statistical database. This is one of the major hurdles in becoming a 21st Century economy. It also raises questions about the quality of the numerous so-called institutions and universities of excellence that exist in the country, because most of the answers should be emerging from them.