National Statistics Day 2020 and statistical system in India

Dr N Sharat Singh
Today, the 29th June 2020 is the 14th National Statistics Day of India. It is celebrated throughout the country under the guidelines of Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation (MOSPI) in recognition of great contributions made by Prof. P. C. Mahalanobis (1893-1972) in Economic Planning and Statistical Development in Post Independent Era, coinciding with his birth anniversary. Its objective is to sensitize the public about how statistics help in shaping and framing developmental policies. The theme for this year is “SDG-3: Ensure healthy lives and promote well being for all at all ages” and hence many institutions are organizing seminar/ conference/ online quiz on this day mainly on the topics – Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) Reports; Covid-19 impacts on healthcare sectors; gender equality and social justice etc. The statistical system/ official statistics in India may be viewed in three generations viz., pre-independence, post-independence, and present system.
Pre-Independence: The statistical system was first laid down by the then British Administration by publishing first Statistical Abstract of British India (1840-1865), based on information provided by the Provinces as notable contributions of District Gazetteers in the first half of the nineteenth century. The first significant development in the pre independence era was the constitution of a Statistical Committee (1862) for preparation of forms to collect statistical information on different subject areas. It led to the publication of Statistical Abstract of British India in 1868. It was based on the returns of local administrations and contained useful statistical information for all British Provinces, and became an annual feature till 1923. The first complete Population Census was conducted in 1881 on a uniform basis throughout the country. Since then the census is being conducted regularly after every ten years appointing a Census Commissioner by the Govt. before each census assisted by Provincial Superintendents and District Census Officers. The first publication of Agricultural Statistics of British India was also brought out in 1886. A Statistical Branch was established in 1862 in the then Finance Department of the Govt. of India. In 1895, the Statistical Branch was converted into a full-fledged Statistical Bureau embracing subsequently, within its function the task of dissemination of commercial intelligence in 1905. Functions and activities of the Bureau were carried out through two wings – Commercial Intelligence and Statistics putting both under an organization, Department of Commercial Intelligence and Statistics headed by the Director-General. The Director-General of Commercial Intelligence and Statistics until 1914 was responsible for compilation and publication of principal statistical information on Demography, Crop Production and Prices, Rainfall, Industrial Production, Education, Health and Hygiene, Mining, Roads and Communications, and others. In April 1914, a separate Directorate of Statistics came into existence. The Directorate of Statistics and the Commercial Intelligence Department were also merged into Directorate of Commercial Intelligence and Statistics in January 1925.
Several Commissions and Committees appointed by the Govt. of India for studies of specific fields also recommended that the Provinces should create institutions to collect statistics in relevant fields. The Indian Industrial Commission (1916-1918) recommended that a Department of Industries should be created in the Provinces, with representatives throughout the Province to collect information on industries. Later the Royal Commission on Agriculture in India (1924-1925) pointed out that not only Provinces be self-sufficient in the field of statistics, but also that there should be a large Central Organization. The Famine Enquiry Commission (1945) also suggested the appointment of qualified Statistical Officers at Provincial Headquarters to assist the Director of Agriculture. In 1925, the Economic Enquiry Committee was set-up to enquire into ‘the question of the adequacy of statistical data available, desirability and possibility of supplementing it, and of undertaking an economic enquiry’. The Committee recommended that the Central and Provincial Governments should come under the supervision of one central authority that would act as an adviser to the Govt. in all statistical matters. The Committee supported the placing of the entire statistical organisation on a statutory basis by enacting a Census and Statistics Act. The Committee appointed by the Govt. of India in 1934 under Messrs Bowley and Robertson, for facilitating a further study of economic problems in India was required by one of its terms of reference, to make a recommendation about the organization of a Central Statistical Department. The two experts were clear that there should be in each major Province a whole time Statistician who would cooperate with the Central Director of Statistics and who would be as nearly independent of departmental control as administrative requirements permitted. The creation of the Central Economic Intelligence Organization, under the Economic Adviser, and the emergence of the Department of Commercial Intelligence and Statistics were the results of these recommendations. Similar developments followed in the Provinces and the United Provinces Govt. was the first to set up a Department of Economics and Statistics in 1942. The Govt. of Bombay followed by the establishment of its Bureau of Economics and Statistics in 1946.
Post-Independence: In 1939, the outbreak of the II World War gave a fillip to the development of statistics to meet the requirements of the Govt. In 1945, the Govt. of India set up an Inter - Departmental Committee with the Economic Adviser to the Govt. of India as Chairman to consider statistical data available and to make recommendations for filling up of organizational gaps. Among the organizational recommendations, a scheme was coupled with the formation of a Central Statistical Office for coordination, the Institution of a Statistical Cadre, the establishment of Statistical Bureaus at the Headquarters of State Governments and preparation of overall statistics for the country. At this critical juncture, Prof. P.C. Mahalanobis was appointed as First Statistical Adviser to the Cabinet, Govt. of India in January 1949. He was known to be the architect of the Statistical System of Independent India. Meanwhile, Prof. P.V. Sukhatme, as Statistical Adviser to the then Ministry of Agriculture was also responsible for the development of Agricultural Statistics. Thus, the Era of developmental planning in India becomes with the following phases:
- A nucleus Statistical Unit was set up at the Centre in the Cabinet Secretariat in 1949. This Unit was developed later on in 1951 into the Central Statistical Organisation (CSO). It was brought about coordination of statistical activities among various statistical agencies in the Central Govt. and of Statistical Bureaus of State Governments which was set up for similar coordination of activities of statistical agencies at the State level.
- A National Income Committee was appointed in 1949 to work out a system for reliable estimation of national income. To be continued
The author is a faculty member of the Statistics Department, D. M. College of Science, Imphal.