India Plans Comprehensive Economic Data Overhaul and Population Census
India Plans Comprehensive Economic Data Overhaul and Population Census

India is gearing up for significant improvements in its economic data and population census, according to insiders familiar with the plans.

The Statistics Ministry has proposed several measures, which have been under discussion at Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s office over the past month, sources revealed on condition of anonymity due to the confidential nature of the discussions.

Among the proposed changes are the revival of business surveys, last conducted in 2014, and the publication of household consumption surveys annually. Additionally, plans include adopting a uniform base year for key indicators and updating the basket of goods for calculating inflation.

Furthermore, the government is contemplating a new population census following the completion of elections. Typically conducted once every decade, the last census was in 2011, with the most recent survey postponed due to the pandemic.

Economists have long advocated for an overhaul of India’s statistical system, while concerns about data quality have been raised even by Modi's economic advisory council. As India’s economy grows rapidly and attracts global investor interest, the accuracy of official figures becomes increasingly crucial. Relying on outdated surveys also heightens the risk of policy errors.

The proposed census would involve training and deploying over 300,000 government staff to enumerate citizens in the world’s most populous nation, sources disclosed. The survey is anticipated to span approximately 12 months.

Reviving the business survey is aimed at providing insights into the economy’s transition away from agriculture towards other sectors, sources noted. This understanding would assist the government in tailoring policies to stimulate manufacturing, which has been declining as a share of GDP over the years. The government's target was to raise the manufacturing share to 25% by 2025, while the World Bank estimated it to be around 13% in 2022.

Additionally, the government plans to establish an advisory panel tasked with recommending changes to the base year in economic data and revising category weights. These plans are slated for implementation after the upcoming elections.

Currently, industrial production and GDP data are based on a 2011-12 reference year, while consumer inflation uses 2012 as the base year. It’s a common practice for statistical agencies to update base years periodically to better capture evolving spending patterns and economic trends.

The revision of the consumer price basket aims to reflect changes in consumer spending habits in India, such as reduced expenditure on food and increased spending on digital items like mobile tariffs, sources added. Recent household consumption surveys have shown a decline in the proportion of spending on food in both urban and rural households over the past decade.

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