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Patna: Vice-President (VP) of India M Hamid Ansari, who on Friday inaugurated an international seminar on` Social Statistics’ organised her by The Asian Development Research Institute (ADRI), said Statistics has always been intimately linked to the social dimensions of the State.

In the late 17th and early 18th centuries, particularly in Europe, when it was more fashionably called ‘political arithmetic’, attempts started at calculating population size and life expectancy because the analysts believed that a growing population was evidence of a healthy State, he said. These early social researchers, who believed that information about society could help governments devise wiser policies- were called statists, and the new quantitative evidence based science, soon began to be called statistics. The discipline has evolved over time and great names like Auguste Compte, Herbert Spencer, Emile Durkheim and Talcott Parsons imparted to it philosophical and sociological foundations and scientific methodology, vice-president Ansari said .

” Today social statistics are the foundation of the structural-functionalist tradition in sociology and social studies. It serves two purposes. The first, and the more visible purpose is to provide us with an accurate and true description of the society. The other use is in the context of constructing ‘social problems’, where statistics are used to support or discredit particular points of view,” Ansari said. One of the purposes of statistics is to facilitate the discovery, understanding, quantification, modeling and communication of the facts about the world. In the context of social statistics, the task of describing and quantifying human behavior, with all its uncertainties and unpredictability, is fraught with risks.

He said the statistics, often, only offers an interval of plausible values for an unknown parameter and, is at best, an approximation of the reality even when the uncertainty itself has been described in some detail. This has also led to the uncharitable remark that ‘statistics is the only science that enables different experts using the same figures to draw different conclusions’.

Vice-president Ansari said in India, the pioneering work in this field was done by Prof. P C Mahalanobis, who founded the Indian Statistical Institute (ISI) and by P V Sukhamte who was the driving force behind the statistical branch of the Imperial (later Indian) Council for Agricultural Research. He said the relevance and effectiveness of policy judgments, therefore, depended on the quality of data and the efficacy of analysis and interpretation.

“Today, the discipline of statistics in India boasts of a separate Ministry,- the Ministry of Statistics and Programme implementation; a separate arm of bureaucracy – Indian Statistical Service (ISS); a number of information gathering mechanisms such as the National Sample Survey Organization (NSSO) and a vast array of central and state government departments engaged in the task of collecting and analyzing data,” said VP Ansari. In addition, social and economic surveys by National Sample Survey Office provide data related to social and economic developments, industrial production and the agricultural sector, he said.

And yet, all is not well in the Indian social statistics sector. Concerns have been raised about the quality of data being generated as also about the duplication of efforts to collect statistics across various government departments, inaccessibility of national data archives and the infringement of privacy by government’s data collection machinery, he said. Based on the recommendations of the Rangarajan report in 2001, a National Statistics Commission was put in place in 2005 and the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation released a new Data Policy in 2009, and the National Data Sharing and Accessibility Policy in 2012.

Despite this, the problems with our official statistics appear to persist, said Ansari. Some of the criticism of Indian public statistics, especially when it comes to measurement of crosscutting social issues such as gender disparity, inequality, poverty and growth seems valid. This is not only undermining the credibility of Indian statistics globally but also hurting the analysis of some of the most important elements of Indian economy.

Ansari said French economist Thomas Piketty has lamented the “huge” gap in statistics in India exemplified by paucity of data on income tax and the reluctance of the government to release the caste census results. Even after the government recently released official figures for the income tax in 2012-13, which has prompted a lively debate about the extent of tax evasion in India with commentators noting that there were very few tax returns at the highest end of the income spectrum, Piketty told the international media that “the data was too thin to draw significant conclusions about the levels of inequality in India”. The Vice-president said we need to identify the gaps in official data and analysis and determine ways on how best we can bridge them.






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