Why old GDP numbers are political fodder today

NEW DELHI: While the release of the latest round of GDP data is about the past (2005-12 financial years) it reverses an important political point of argument in the current context. Before the numbers were revised, the average GDP growth rate under the Congress-led UPA government (2004-14) was 7.75%, higher than current NDA government’s 7.35% but now UPA figures have gone down to 6.82%. That’s a good selling point for the current government and a reason to cry foul for the last one.

Row erupts as new GDP data slashes growth rate in UPA era

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GDP isn’t Niti’s job: GDP data is the responsibility of the Central Statistics Office (CSO), which has been responsible for maintaining India’s national accounts since 1951, but the latest data was jointly released by Niti Aayog. That led to allegations of political involvement and undermining the CSO. Niti chairman justified it by saying: GDP data is a broader macroeconomic issue and not entirely technical and Niti Aayog is a principal user of statistics. But a former chief statistician says: This is the first time that the GDP data has been presided over by what is a political organisation, which does serious damage to the official statistical system.

GDP data revision: Niti Aayog’s role raises eyebrows; some feel it was best avoided

Process wasn’t smooth: While waiting for the official old data under the revised format, a report by another government body this year showed even better four 9%-plus growth years during UPA rule (the revised data doesn’t cross 9%) which the (embarrassed) government dubbed ‘unofficial’. Following that, there was a continuous flip-flop over the release of the data (a press conference to announce the data was cancelled earlier this month at the last moment).

Niti Aayog vice-chairman accepts Chidambaram’s ‘challenge’ on revised GDP data

Missing statistician: While all this was on, India’s chief statistician demitted office, and the government was unable to find a replacement for eight long months (until October). That not just delayed the process but raised questions about Centre’s intent.

Missing statistics: It’s not just GDP but other data sets that have made news for the wrong reasons – from the top-secret price of Rafale jets, to missing data on jobs to the delay in releasing caste census data or even the demonetisation-related numbers released by RBI. Many of these have political implications.

War of GDPs: Row erupts after new data slashes growth in UPA eraLoading

Meanwhile, former chief economic advisor Arvind Subramanian, has an explanation for the dip in GDP in 2017 – demonetisation. “Demonetisation was a massive, draconian, monetary shock: In one fell swoop, 86% of the currency in circulation was withdrawn. The real GDP growth was affected by the demonetisation. In the six quarters before demonetisation, growth averaged 8% and in the seven quarters after, it averaged about 6.8%,” he says in his yet-to-be-released book.

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