A Government of India Parliamentary Standing Committee on Finance, which submitted its report last month, has hauled up the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation (MoSPI) for major data goof-ups and shoddy work in some of the data releases. It has sought an independent inquiry into these data errors and a report within three months.
Last month MoSPI drew severe flak for the recent sharp downward revision of a provisional Index for Industrial Production for the month of January 2012. The IIP data was revised down to 1.1 % from 6.8 %. The error was attributed to wrong sugar production number. Sugar production was wrongly reported at 13.41 million tonnes instead of the actual figure of 5.81 million tonne.After the sharp downward revision in the data, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee had asked officials associated with this data release to “look into” the mistake and find out how it happened.

Earlier, India’s trade data for April-October 2011 had to be reduced by $8.8 billion leaving the country red-faced.

While the Committee acknowledges that steps have been taken to improve collection of important statistics but efforts leave much to be desired.

It said it is “seriously concerned” about this flaw, which projects not only the government but the entire country in a poor light.

Fiscal Prudence Urged

Another aspect of the MoSPI that has come under criticism of the Standing Committee on Finance is that budgetary allocation of the MoSPI has been in excess of actual expenditure for three years in a row.

In 2011-12 (April-March) the MoSPI’s actual expenditure minus Member of Parliament Local Area Development Scheme was Rs 616.65 crore against the budget estimate of Rs 947.36 crore. In 2010-11, actual expenditure fell short by Rs 119.61 crore from budgeted estimate and in 2009-10 by Rs 107.09 crore.

The MoSPI attributed the shortfall to delay and postponement of projects.

But the Standing Committee said it is not convinced by this reason and has asked MoSPI to exercise “utmost fiscal prudence and discipline” so as to make realistic Budget estimates in the future.

Infrastructure Project Delays

The Standing Committee of Finance has also criticised the Railways and National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) for not furnishing timely information on infrastructure projects that are being monitored by MoSPI.

Of the 561 projects monitored by MoSPI, 258 projects amounting to 46 percent of the total projects have had overruns in either cost or time or both.

The Standing Committee has asked MoSPI to take this issue up “at the highest level”.

The Standing Committee believes the new Consumer Price Index inflation as measured by the new series with base year as 2010 is more reflective of the prevailing inflationary situation.

Manpower Shortage

On the issue of manpower shortage, the Standing Committee has urged the MoSPI to address it with priority and urgency.

The MoSPI had raised the issue of manpower shortage in the Indian Statistical Service and Subordinate Statistical Service in its Report of the Committee on the Demands for Grants (2011-12).

As the shortfall in manpower is likely to adversely affect the authenticity and credibility of the data collected, analysed and disseminated this issue should be taken up on a priority basis, the Standing Committee on Finance said.