NEW DELHI: Rajiv Kumar, vice-chairman of Niti Aayog, has rejected charges of data manipulation and said the revised GDP numbers were released after close scrutiny by country’s 10 leading statisticians. In an interview with TOI, he explained the reasons for downward revision in GDP growth during the UPA era. Excerpts:
Former finance minister P Chidambaram has accused NITI Aayog of doing a hatchet job …
It reflects total lack of information and complete dishonesty. It is not NITI Aayog which has prepared these estimates. They have been prepared over the last 30 months by experts, professionals and competent people in the Central Statistics Office (CSO), whose figures he has never objected in the past. He was happily gloating over it. As FM (Arun Jaitley) has said, this shows an amazingly perverse kind of nature, where you accept when things suit you and call them names when things go against you.
Should politicians stay out of the data debate?
They should learn how to use data. They should not politicise it. They should accept the veracity of the data but also keep a hawk eye on data.
Why was NITI Aayog involved in data release?
We conducted two round tables with leading statisticians, and had the entire data examined twice. Only when they had vetted, examined it and approved the methodology, we chose to release it. As the whole exercise was conducted by NITI Aayog, it was considered to be a better platform to release it. Release of a back series is not just a technical exercise, like doing IIP or WPI series. It’s a much bigger methodological issue, which affects all aspects of macro economy. So, NITI Aayog was the natural platform and CSO requested us to do it.
What are the reasons for a downward revision?
Almost the entire thing is because of over-estimation of tertiary or the services sector in past series. A lot of outdated base data was being used. For some data, the basis was 1993 and growth was being projected from there onwards, rather than undertaking a new survey. The second reason is financial services. The system of national accounts of UN 2008 says RBI should be treated as a nonmarket entity, so their data should not be included. Three, informal trade was estimated in an arbitrary manner. They didn’t have the data on growth of general trade index. Basis of this was in 1990s and they were projecting only output growth. Now, CSO has sales tax data and that has been used to compute total trade turnover. At the end of the day, there were three segments — unorganised trade, financial services and telecom, which explain over-estimation in the past to a large extent, and therefore the correction now. As a result, share of services sector and contribution to growth has come down.
This data shows India is far away from a doubledigit growth rate …
There are three takeaways. One, it is much more difficult to break 8% growth ceiling and reach double digits. You need to focus on steps to improve productivity and logistics. Otherwise, you will not achieve that. Second, we are not decoupled from global economy. Third, invest more resources into statistics system, modernise and enlarge it, the crux of policy-making for informed decisions.