|Difficult Word/ Phrase
|Occurring once in five years
|Become productive or fruitful
|to draw attention to (something)
|A difference between conflicting facts, claims or opinions
|A variation that deviates from the standard or norm
|Showing or representing unfavourably
|Make obscure or unclear
|A statement that limits or restricts some claim
|Charge with a task
|A shortage of rainfall
|Think about carefully; weigh
|specify in detail
|Consider as relevant when making a decision
|Take something with a pinch of salt
|If you take something with a pinch of salt, you do not believe that it is completely accurate or true.
|A message expressing an opinion based on incomplete evidence
|proclaim or boast about
|An indirect (and usually malicious) implication
Data, interrupted: On official household spending survey
Reviving the official household spending survey is only a first step
India’s official statistical machinery is gearing up to relaunch the All-India Household Consumer Expenditure Survey, traditionally undertaken quinquennially (Occurring once in five years), from July 2022. If it fructifies (Become productive or fruitful), the result may be known towards the latter half of 2024, provided the Government permits the release. The last such Survey (2017-18), did not get such a sanction — its results reportedly indicated the first fall in monthly per-capita spending by households since 1972-73, with rural households facing a sharper decline compared to 2011-12. The Statistics Ministry had flagged (to draw attention to (something)) ‘discrepancies’ (A difference between conflicting facts, claims or opinions), ‘data quality issues’ and ‘divergences (A variation that deviates from the standard or norm)’ between estimated consumption levels and the actual output of goods and services. While it had sought to scuttle (Intentionally undermine) suggestions that unflattering (Showing or representing unfavourably) data were being obfuscated (Make obscure or unclear), a better course of action would have been to release the data with caveats (A statement that limits or restricts some claim). It could have argued, for instance, that the numbers, at best, reflect the short-term impact of the ‘bold structural reforms’ carried out in the year preceding the Survey, to ‘formalise’ the economy — demonetisation and the GST. A fresh survey could then have been commissioned (Charge with a task) later for a clearer picture. This is what the UPA had done in 2011-12 to measure employment and consumer spending levels afresh, after the 2009-10 Surveys were affected by the global financial crisis and a severe drought (A shortage of rainfall) that hit rural incomes.
The Government had promised to examine the ‘feasibility’ of a fresh Consumer Spending Survey, over 2020-21 and 2021-22, after ‘incorporating all data quality refinements’ mooted (Think about carefully; weigh) by a panel. One hopes the exact ‘refinements’ are spelt out (specify in detail) upfront in the upcoming Survey. Of equal import is providing data comparable with past numbers, while factoring in (Consider as relevant when making a decision) changes in consumption patterns; and it may still not be too late to release the previous Survey’s findings to help assess longer term trends. The absence of official data on such a critical aspect of the economy — used to estimate poverty levels, rebase GDP, and to make private investment decisions — for over a decade, is damaging to India. Being a free-market and transparent democracy distinguished India from the likes of China where official data are read with a pinch of salt (If you take something with a pinch of salt, you do not believe that it is completely accurate or true). The Government’s actions, including the delayed release of critical jobs data, have dulled that perception. If anything, such Surveys need to be conducted more frequently for more effective policy actions informed by ground realities, no matter how unpleasant they may be. Now, imperfect proxies are deployed to gauge the economy, surmises (A message expressing an opinion based on incomplete evidence) made about the extinction (abolition) of extreme poverty, and outlays are tom-tommed (proclaim or boast about) without evidence on outcomes. The NSO must be empowered to collect and disseminate more data points, without fear of insinuations (An indirect (and usually malicious) implication) about its abilities, or a looming axe on its regular Surveys.
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