A new consumer spending survey is long overdue. Government should move to more regular surveys

The Narendra Modi government is set to launch a new Household Consumption Expenditure (CES) survey from July. Exercise is welcome – in fact, long overdue. The CES, covering about 1.2 lakh rural and 84,000 urban households, is supposed to be conducted every five years. The last two national sample surveys were carried out in 2011-12 and 2017-18. Unfortunately, the results of the 2017-2018 survey have not been released due to unexplained “data quality issues”. In effect, this means that there is no official data after 2011-2012 to estimate poverty lines and ratios, based on consumption expenditure below a certain level and the percentage of households falling below this line. of deprivation. Many will rightly say that high growth rates and government social programs mean little, especially in a country like India, if they do not translate into poverty reduction. Without data, it’s hard to assess if this is happening at all, let alone at an accelerated rate.

The current data vacuum contrasts with 2011-2, when there was an overabundance of information from the decennial census and the Ministry of Rural Development’s socio-economic and caste census. This latest data was, in fact, key to identifying beneficiaries under the Modi government’s successful programs – whether rural housing and toilets or the provision of free LPG and gas connections. electricity. Evidence-based policy-making is also essential in other areas: for example, is the consumption of foods rich in protein (milk, pulses, eggs and meat) and micronutrients (fruits and vegetables) increasing? it at the same rate as in the world? previous decade? Only the CES can give satisfactory answers to this question, which is also important for making projections of future demand, crop planning and food diversification interventions. With the shadow of Covid lagging behind, the next year and a half should hopefully provide a wealth of information from both CES and the Census to guide policy makers and researchers, who are currently reliant on vendors private data providers such as the Center for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) and NielsenIQ.

Although the launch of the CES is timely, the government should move on to conducting more regular surveys. The existing five-year framework and the expectation of “normal” years makes no sense. Such years have become increasingly rare in India, where recent times have seen disruptions from demonetization, GST, Covid and the war-induced commodity price shock in Ukraine. Since government decision-making must be dynamic and responsive to changing situations on the ground, data must continue to flow. If a CMIE can survey more than 2,36,000 households three times a year, there is no reason why the National Statistics Office cannot do a CES, which is based on a more complete questionnaire, at least once a year, even with a smaller sample.

This editorial first appeared in the print edition of June 25, 2022 under the title “Let the data be”.

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