India’s data collectors have a number problem as national survey office faces staff crunch
24% of positions vacant for the posts of junior and senior statistical officers at the National Sample Survey Office.india Updated: Mar 30, 2017 00:20 IST
The National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) is facing a shortage of investigators for conducting surveys, a response to an RTI filed by Hindustan Times revealed, raising questions about the quality of data being generated from these surveys.
The field operations division of the NSSO, which is responsible for collecting primary data, has around 24% of positions vacant for the posts of junior and senior statistical officers.
Data from NSSO is central to policy making in India as it happens to be an official source of key socio-economic indicators (consumption, employment etc) collected via large-scale sample surveys.
“The ground-level staff of NSSO needs to be strengthened but the process is hindered due to time-consuming appointment procedures,” said Amitabh Kundu, former member of National Statistical Commission and now professor at Institute for Human Development.
The situation is a little better than earlier when the shortage was around 30% and above, says Pronab Sen, former chief statistician of India.
Kundu said staff constraints had prevented the NSSO from increasing the sample size, that is, the number of people surveyed. The higher the number of people surveyed, the lower is the margin of error, and more reliable is the data.
Manpower shortage also limits the office from taking up new surveys, said Sen. “The quality of data, therefore, suffers both on account of insufficient sample sizes as well as relatively untrained field staff,” he added.
Things are worse in the western zone, which includes Maharashtra, Gujarat and Chhattisgarh, with 41% positions of senior statistical officer and 34% for junior statistical officer lying vacant.
In the southern zone, there is a 41% shortage in junior statistical officer and 30% in senior statistical officer.
NSSO is one of the best investments India made after independence, said Dr Sonalde Desai, senior fellow at NCAER and professor of sociology at the University of Maryland.
“It has helped to shape the policy discourse around what was happening on the ground instead of staying mired in ideological debate,” reckoned Dr Desai. “At a time when the nation is faced with great data needs, NSSO should be able to carry out its normal operations and additionally undertake methodological innovations. It cannot focus on these innovations if it is struggling to meet its core goals.”
The RTI response also says that NSSO has not outsourced data collection to other agencies any time in the past.