Niti’s role raises eyebrows

Niti’s role raises eyebrows
Highlights

With eyebrows being raised over the involvement of the Niti Aayog in releasing revised GDP data for the UPA era, some in the government feel the controversy could have been totally avoided by keeping the think tank out of the announcement

New Delhi: With eyebrows being raised over the involvement of the Niti Aayog in releasing revised GDP data for the UPA era, some in the government feel the controversy could have been totally avoided by keeping the think tank out of the announcement.

The Niti Aayog had on Wednesday hosted a news conference by its Vice Chairman Rajiv Kumar and Chief Statistician Pravin Srivastava to announce the so-called back-series data. The new numbers show India's economic growth rate averaged 6.7 per cent during the Congress-led UPA regime as compared to 7.3 per cent under the present government. Previous numbers had put the average growth rate during the 10-year UPA rule at 7.75 per cent. While the government has maintained that the Central Statistical Office - the agency responsible for the number crunching - is an independent agency, a joint press conference by Kumar and Srivastava raised eyebrows.

A top source in the government said the controversy could have been avoided by keeping out the Niti Aayog from the announcement press conference. He believed that the Niti Aayog had no role in calculating the GDP numbers, which was the job of CSO. The announcement too should have been left to the CSO alone. Former chief statistician Pronab Sen questioned the involvement of the Aayog.

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley on his part defended the revision saying the CSO was a ‘highly credible organisation’ that ‘maintains an arm's length distance from finance ministry’. To those criticising the numbers, he said: "I don't think any service is being rendered by people who choose to discredit a highly credible organisation like the CSO because its data is based on facts and the revised formulations which is a continuous exercise because every time you try and improve upon the formulations to make them more representative of the real state of economy.

Speaking to PTI, Sen said the "integrity of CSO has been dented in the eyes of users". "We have always had a system that data CSO brings out is completely removed from the political interference. Even the Prime Minister would get to know of the numbers just before they are released. Now to do that alongside Niti Aayog, which is a political institution like the (previous) Planning Commission was, is essentially diluting the integrity of the CSO," he added. When a political institution releases national statistical data, it puts a huge question mark on the credibility of the data and the political independence of the statistical agencies, Sen noted. "The credibility of CSO has been badly dented, not because of the data but because of the manner in which the release has been done," he said.

Sen, however, said he could not comment on the numbers as the statement put out "does not give me a feel for methodology" adopted in calculations. Just months before the general elections, the country's economic growth rate during the previous Congress-led UPA regime was lowered Wednesday, shaving off over 1 percentage point from the only year when India posted double-digit GDP growth post liberalisation and from each of the three years with 9-plus per cent expansion.

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