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Right now, India has neither a chief statistician nor a chief economic advisor; should it worry us?

As on date, India has no chief statistician or chief economic advisor. It’s been close to five months since the post of India’s chief statistician was left vacant.

A committee, led by Cabinet Secretary PK Sinha hasn’t yet identified a successor to TCA Anant who demitted the office on 31 January.

Even if it manages to finalise someone now, it might take another few months before the process is completed and that name is cleared by the Prime Minister’s office. That leaves the top statistical office, responsible for critical data functions in the economy, headless for more than half a year. This will not augur well for the economy, already suffering greatly from poor quality data on industrial activity and job creation.

A headless Central Statistics Office (CSO) will only add to the confusion on a range of issues, especially on the Goods and Services Tax (GST) related lack of clarity on the revenue side. The system is still adjusting to the new regime and the GST figures need to be integrated to the national budget this year. Similarly, there are major changes that have happened to GDP calculation i.e. the move to a gross value added (GVA) based analysis, where back-series data is still missing. The government has not released back-series data on the new base year of 2011-12 and will do so only after consultation with an expert panel, according to this report.

There are very few economists now who take IIP data seriously on account of its sharp disconnect with other key macro numbers. As for employment, India still does not have any robust mechanism; the government kicked-off its EFFO-based studies recently but that is fraught with risks.

File photo of Arvind Subramanian. Reuters

File photo of Arvind Subramanian. Reuters

Equally worrying is the vacancy at the chief economic advisor’s (CEA’s) office post the early resignation of Arvind Subramanian, who cited personal commitments as a reason behind his decision. Subramanian’s extended tenure was supposed to expire in September. India may not have a successor to Subramanian till the next government comes to power at the Centre.

According to a report in Livemint , it is unlikely that the Narendra Modi-led government will appoint a successor to Subramanian for the remainder of the NDA government’s term as the next budget will not be a full budget, owing to general elections in early 2019. But, that would mean that India will not have an economic survey this year — the only major yearly assessment from the government on the state of economy. Also, ahead of 2019’s general elections, the economic survey is critical to obtain a final picture about the state of the economy, so that the electorate can make a fair assessment of the state of affairs on the ground.

And, without fail, Subramanian’s economic surveys have shown a mirror to the government every year, and did not necessarily agree with the finance ministry on certain critical aspects. With no CEA, the survey will be missed this year and will also worry economists looking for India-specific data from the government’s advisor.

To be sure, one can argue that institutions are important and not individuals; hence the CSO and the CEA’s office can function without heads. But, for an ambitious economy that wants to keep its data credibility standards high, and move towards enhanced transparency on the economic front, the two vacant posts will be a cause for worry.

The Modi regime will do well in filling up these posts at the earliest.

 

 


Updated Date: Jun 25, 2018 13:01 PM

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