2.1.1Collection of numerical data for the purpose of understanding the behaviour of various socio-economic variables has a long history. The origin of the term ‘statistics’ is associated with this concept, which is to describe the state. Of course, statistics, as a scientific discipline, goes beyond enumeration. Statistical inference is an important part of the discipline. However, inference will be fruitless, if the basic data are faulty or inaccurate or unreliable. That is why we have to pay attention to data collection in all its dimensions. A good statistical system is a prerequisite for sound decision-making and for the formulation and monitoring of public policies.
2.1.2 India, in accordance with its federal structure, has created a statistical system, which is both decentralised and centralised. Large-scale statistical operations such as Population Census, Economic Census and nation-wide sample surveys are centralised. In addition, the compilation of macro-economic aggregates like national accounts, price indices and industrial production are largely Central activities. However, the State Governments and statistical organisations of the State are also engaged in collecting and generating data on a number of variables. Even where the responsibility for policy formulation lies with the Central Ministries, the actual collection of data may be done by the State Governments through their agencies. For example, in the case of Agricultural Statistics, the crop area and yield data are collected by State Governments through various schemes initiated by the Central Ministry of Agriculture. There is, therefore a need for a high degree of coordination between the Central statistical authorities and the State-level organisations. The Statistics Wing of the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation in the Government of India is the nodal agency for coordination of statistical activities and maintenance of statistical standards. For coordination with States and Union Territories, it operates through State Directorates of Economics and Statistics.
2.1.3 The Indian Statistical System has over the years built an elaborate statistical infrastructure to capture the wide variety of data generated by a very large and decentralised economy. However, due to its over dependence on the administrative set up and traditional records, the system has not been able to keep pace with the demands of statistical requirements. The process of development has also brought in significant structural changes in the economy, which need to be captured by the statistical system. While the scientific basis for the generation of data and the methodologies adopted may not be in question, in many cases, what has brought about a decline in the quality and reliability of the statistics generated by the system is the inability of the present system or procedure of collecting data to meet the quality standards.
2.1.4 Apart from the quality of data, there are other problems such as data gaps, duplication leading to conflicting statistics and inordinate delays in transmission and publication of data. In the field of Agricultural Statistics large data gaps exist with reference to the output of fruits and vegetables and other minor crops, and estimates of meat, meat products and fish. The results of 16th Livestock Census, scheduled to be completed in 1997, are still not available for a number of States. The representativeness of the Index of Industrial Production has been considered as questionable due to inter alia inadequate information on Small Scale Sector. One of the perennial issues relating to national income in our country has been the difference between the National Accounts and National Sample Survey (NSS) estimates on consumption expenditure. In the area of External Sector Statistics also, the reconciliation of the data on exports and imports between the Directorate General of Commercial Intelligence and Statistics (DGCI&S) and RBI is essential. Further, the present system has not been able to provide adequate information on basic socio-economic indicators required for micro-level planning. For example, although the Civil Registration System was envisaged as a mechanism to provide annual estimates of the infant mortality rate, death and birth rate, etc. at the district level, it has failed and as a result, such estimates are not available at the decentralised level. No reliable information is available on many aspects in the Health Sector like problems of the aged, contribution of private sector to health care, disease-specific expenditure on health, etc. The whole area of Services Sector is undergoing far-reaching changes with the application of Information Technology. More of intangible goods are getting exchanged. However, huge data gaps exist with reference to such transactions.
2.1.5 The Indian Statistical System, therefore, needs to improve its credibility, timeliness and adequacy. The Commission has examined the present system of collection and dissemination of statistics relating to different sectors of the economy using these criteria. For overcoming the problems identified thereby, the Commission has adopted a five-fold remedial approach:
First,reform in the administrative structure of the Indian Statistical System and upgrading its infrastructure so as to ensure its autonomy
Second, improvement of the present system of collection of data, in relation to data that are currently being generated
Third, exploration of alternative techniques, in relation to the existing statistics, if the present system for collecting data is under strain for whatever reasons,
Fourth, identification of new data series that may be generated in keeping pace with the expanding economy, and
Fifth, evolution of appropriate methodologies for collection of data, in relation to the new data requirements.