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Monday, 24 October 2011 00:00
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CAT sets aside Chief Statistician of India appointment


If it wasn’t enough that all manner of problems keep cropping up with official data, the latest being a report from Kotak Securities that blasts a big hole through the exports data, the Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT) has set aside the appointment of TCA Anant as the Chief Statistician of India (CSI) on the grounds that the appointment was not made “in accordance with the eligibility criteria prescribed by the government”.

At one level, there could be an underlying turf issue with the Indian Statistical Service (ISS) cadre wanting the chief statistician's job to be manned by it—Anant’s appointment was challenged by SK Das, the Director General of the Central Statistics Office and the senior-most ISS officer. But it was to get over turf issues that the Rangarajan Commission had recommended that a committee of experts be mandated to select the CSI—apart from the deputy chairman of the Planning Commission, and a deputy governor of RBI, the committee was to have Prof KL Krishna (retired professor of the Delhi School of Economics) and Prof SP Mukherjee who is the chairman of the Calcutta Statistical Association. While the panel was convinced Anant met the criterion of “statistical and managerial experience in a large statistical organisation” since he was a distinguished economist and taught econometrics, CAT has said “it is not only in economics but in almost a large number of disciplines where data are analysed through a process of inductive logic that statistical tools are employed, but that does not make professionals of those disciplines eligible for the post of CSI”.

It is not this newspaper’s job to decide on whether or not Anant’s appointment transgressed the rules, but going only by ‘experience in a large statistical organisation’ would mean only ISS officials are eligible and perhaps, just perhaps, officials from the private sector data firm CMIE. The CSI’s job is not just presiding over the collection of data, it is to modernise the manner in which it is interpreted and to ensure the data makes sense. A large part of the debate over the inadequacies of inflation data, for instance, is about whether seasonal adjustment should be done and, if so, the methodology to be used; the debate over the poverty line has to take into account the sharp divergence between NSS and national accounts data; the booming exports data has to be explained in the context of the slowing IIP data … that is, a strong economics background is essential. Which way this case goes, once the government challenges it, should be interesting in terms of whether appointments and other committees are to have some leeway in their operations or not. Or whether cadre-isation of top jobs—Indian Economic Service officers for the Chief Economic Advisor’s post!—is the way of the future.



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