14.8.1 In any statistical system, data are collected either directly from individuals and institutions or from administrative records or statutory returns. The success of data collection depends to a large extent, on the cooperation of the respondents. Many countries have found it necessary to put the entire data collection within a legal framework, laying down the obligations and rights of the respondents as well as those of the data collectors.
14.8.2 In our country, there are two such laws: Census Act, 1948 and Collection of Statistics Act, 1953.There is a third set of laws, mainly for administrative purposes, under which statutory returns have to be submitted to specified authorities. These returns are an important source of official statistics. A few of such laws are listed at Annexe 14.10.
14.8.3 Many of these laws are outdated and may require revision. The Government of India had set up in 1998 a Commission to review such laws, but it felt handicapped by the non-availability of rules, and regulations related to this. Comments from different ministries on some of these laws are given at Annexe 14.11.
Collection of Statistics Act, 1953
14.8.4 This Act is to facilitate the collection of statistics of a certain kind relating to industries, trade, and commerce. The Act specifies that the Central or a State Government may appoint a Statistics Authority, who in turn may serve on the owner of an industrial or a commercial concern or an individual, a notice requiring him to furnish certain listed information about the concern. It confers the right of access to relevant records or documents and restricts publication of any information disclosing the identity of the concern. It also provides for certain penalties for wilfully refusing to furnish, or, the furnishing of false information. Details of the Act are given in Annexe 14.12.
14.8.5 However, this law has so far been used for the restricted purpose of conducting an Annual Survey of Industries, to collect information on input, output and employment from a limited segment of the industrial sector. A very large segment of industries remains uncovered and even the penalty clause has not been successful in avoiding non-response. A detailed account of the limitations of this law is given in Annexe 14.13.
Census Act, 1948.
14.8.6 The Population Census, which is a Union subject, is conducted under the Census Act, 1948. The Act empowers the Central Government to take a Population Census of the country after duly notifying its intention to do so. It empowers the Central Government to appoint Census Commissioner and State Governments Census officers to take the census. The Census Act is utilised for fixing primary administrative responsibility, for obtaining necessary funds, for determining the general scope and timing of the Census, for placing a legal obligation upon the people to give truthful answers, and for placing a legal obligation upon the enumerator to record the responses faithfully. While the Act makes it obligatory for the public to answer all questions faithfully, simultaneously, it guarantees confidentiality of information in respect of individuals. It provides penalties for (a) census officers if they fail in their official work, and (b) the respondents if they provide wrong information. The Act has been further amended vide the Census (Amendment) Act 1993 (see Annexe 14.14).
Need for Broader Legislation.
14.8.7 At present, these two Acts cover only limited areas of data collection: (a) basically demographic information through Population Censuses, and (b) industrial information through Annual Survey of Industries. There is no legal basis for other large-scale data collection efforts through censuses or sample surveys. A common feature of these two Acts is to make it obligatory for the respondent to supply correct information and for the data collector to maintain confidentiality of information from a specific individual. There is provision for penalties for failures on either side, but these have seldom been availed of. It is considered necessary that legislation of a general type is required to provide a legal framework for collection of other Core Statistics.
14.8.8 The Commission has recommended the setting up of a permanent National Commission on Statistics (NCS). Introduction of an entirely new legislation is necessary for creating the proposed Commission, laying down its composition, authority, responsibility and procedure of work.
14.8.9 In the following paragraphs, legislative requirements for the three sets of Acts are discussed separately. Whether these could be incorporated into a single Act is a matter for legal experts to decide.
Legislation in respect of proposed National Commission on Statistics.
14.8.10 This being a new arrangement, various aspects of the Commission’s functioning, its relationship with different official agencies, other institutions, etc. as also the necessary mechanisms required for its effective functioning, have to be examined in detail and appropriate legislation thereof has to be put in place. However, to ensure that the legislation is actually effective in practice and fulfils its objectives it would be desirable, not to draft it in advance but to let it be evolved by the proposed Commission itself, taking into account the ground realities, the emerging requirements, etc. when it starts to function. It is therefore suggested that the NCS be established as early as possible (within six months) with a modicum of authority, through a Government Order. Thereafter, in consultation with the Law Ministry and other appropriate agencies and in the light of its own operational experience, the NCS could evolve within a short period the appropriate legislation. This is in fact the procedure adopted by the National Statistics Commission of the UK, which came into being on 7th June 2000 by a Government Act. The UK Commission is still working on the legislation to define its status.
14.8.11 The proposed NCS, which is envisaged to be a high-level nodal body accountable to the parliament and having a policy-making, standard-setting and co-ordinating role for the statistical system, has to be empowered for the crucial role of framing legislation.
Legislation for the proposed National Commission on Statistics.
14.8.12 Legislation for the proposed National Commission on Statistics (NCS) should inter alia address the following important issues:
Status, powers and functions;
Terms and conditions of service of Chairman and Members of National Commission on Statistics:
Procedure for Appointment and Termination,
Powers of Chairman and Members;
Modalities of functioning of National Commission on Statistics:
Obligation to parliament,
Relationship with National Statistician, National Statistical Office, Central and State Ministries and Statistical agencies or institutions,
Meetings of the Commission,
Constitution of expert technical committees in different branches of Statistics,
Provision for hiring Technical Consultant,
Mechanism of interacting with the User and Producer of Statistics;
Mandate of NCS on Core Statistics:
Defining the scope of Core Statistics,
Periodicity and procedure for collection of Core Statistics,
Delegation of powers to Central and State Ministries and other Statistical offices for collection of Core Statistics;
Budget, Accounts and Audit:
Implementation aspects of Statistics Act,
Provision for obligatory transparency in the work of Commission.
Legal Provision for Collection of Statistics.
14.8.13 Necessary legal provisions should be made, either by expanding the scope of the present Collection of Statistics Act (1953) or by passing new Act or Acts to:
Cover any topic under Core Statistics, as defined by the proposed NCS;
Make it obligatory on the part of individuals, or enterprises, or State and private agencies to provide the information sought for any survey under the aegis of the NCS;
Provide right of access to records, including the record of Government agencies for statistical purposes;
Ensure the informant’s right to privacy by making it illegal to publish the identity of the informant, or by requiring him to furnish sensitive information;
Provide penalties for informants, for their refusal to supply, or for wilfully supplying wrong information;
Make it a penal offence for a statistical officer authorised to collect, process, or disseminate information collected from any survey under the Act, to wilfully distort or manipulate the data.
14.8.14 Though clauses 3(a), (b) and (c) of the Collection of Statistics Act (1953) on the one hand gives the State Governments the right to name a Statistical Authority, it seems to be substantially negated by subsequent provisions of the Act under the same clause. As a matter of fact, though there have been occasional requests from other data-collecting agencies to be named as Statistics Authority under the Act, the Government of India had seldom agreed to such a request. The sole Statistics Authority for the Annual Survey of Industries has always been the Head of the Field Operations Division of the NSSO, while the States have also been engaged in collection of ASI data, without any such Statistics Authority. To strengthen the attempts of the States to collect industrial statistics, particularly through the ASI, the Government of India should delegate to them, as was done earlier, the necessary legal authority.
14.8.15 Though “Statistics” is under the Concurrent List of the Constitution and “Surveys” is only under the Union list, it is more important that the collection of statistics on any subject vests in the authority (Central Ministry or State Government Department) that is responsible for that subject according to its status in the Union, State or Concurrent Lists in the Constitution of India. When the NCS determines certain statistics as Core Statistics, in deciding on the agency that should be responsible for their collection, it will have to do so in consistence with the distribution of subjects in the three Lists. Therefore, when proposing legal measures for Core Statistics, the NCS may have to propose different Acts for different subjects according to the List to which the subject belongs.
Modification of the Census Act.
14.8.16 Twice in the past, the Economic Census of India had been carried out as part of the house-listing operation of Population Census. Recently doubts have been raised, whether the Census Act permits this, and consequently the Economic Census has been de-linked from the Population Census. The Commission is of the view that it would be desirable to revert back to the old practice and modify if necessary the Census Act, 1948 and Census (Amendment) Act, 1993 for this purpose.