Key economic data on industrial output and inflation to be released for April and May will not be as incomplete as the same period last year since there is no national lockdown this time and economic activity is sustaining, former Chief Statistician Pronab Sen told Moneycontrol.
However, data which cannot be gathered over the phone and requires field visits will be affected, like the Labour Bureau survey and the planned overhaul of consumer price index-based inflation, Sen added.
Sen was India’s first chief statistician and is currently heading a standing committee to overhaul India’s economic statistics and data collection.
The Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation will release CPI inflation for April and Index of Industrial Production for March on May 12. The Commerce Ministry’s Office of the Economic Advisor will release Wholesale Price Index-based inflation for April on May 14.
“As far as CPI, WPI and IIP are concerned, there shouldn’t be much problem. In these cases, the units, factories and shops are already identified. They have by and large gotten used to giving the monthly data. Telephonically it is not so difficult because you are not having to explain anything,” Sen told Moneycontrol.
In April and May 2020, due to the nationwide lockdown, the centre had not released the headline CPI numbers citing difficulties in data collection due to the Covid-19 pandemic and especially the nationwide lockdown for the whole two months. However, it had released Consumer Food Price Index-based inflation (CFPI) for all the months. It later imputed the CPI print for the two months.
No field visits in lockdown
In a normal world, the raw data for CPI is usually collected from selected 1114 urban markets and selected 1181 villages through personal visits by field staff on a weekly roster. In April 2020, a lot of this data collection was moved to telephone calls. Even then, for that month, data was collected from 674 urban markets and 524 villages for April last year and from 987 urban markets and 836 villages in May 2020.
Sen said that this time, all of this data collection could be through the phone as an even more severe second wave has caused a ‘fear factor’, especially in villages, which means that field visits were impossible.
The MOSPI had also said that imputed CPI numbers for April and May should not be compared with other months, something which the Reserve Bank of India’s Monetary Policy Committee accepted. The MPC’s inflation targeting is on CPI inflation.
For IIP in April and May last year, industrial output had come to a near halt due to the nationwide lockdown, and started picking up late-May onwards as restrictions were loosened. “It is not appropriate to compare the IIP of April 2020 with earlier months and users may like to observe the changes in IIP in the following months,” MOSPI had said.
This year, though there are regional curfews, they are less restrictive than 2020, and most factories and manufacturing units remain open.
“This time it is less problematic because last time because of the national lockdown, we didn’t know if the unit had zero production. This time there is still activity going on. This time they will be able to tell you whether they were able to produce or not. Last time because of the lockdown we could not get in touch with them. Nobody answered the phones as they were all shut,” Sen told Moneycontrol.
Some data could still be affected
The standing committee headed by Sen is planning to commission field visits from July 1 to overhaul CPI inflation. This work could be affected if the spike in Covid cases continue, as it will involve reaching out to more establishments, some of whom may never have seen a questionnaire before.
“CPI is in dire need of a revision. It is totally out of whack with the current consumption patterns. So we are still working on 2011-12 consumption pattern, which is way out of line. To upgrade CPI data, you will have to do a cross sectional survey. And you have to go to the field. You will be dealing with people who have never seen a questionnaire before,”
“Lets be clear, given what is happening now, doing field data collection is not going to happen. Labour bureau has already cancelled their survey. Ours was supposed to begin on July 1. It is going to be very difficult,” Sen said.
The Mint newspaper reported on May 10 that The Union government has suspended work on four key surveys on migrants, domestic workers, and jobs created by the transport sector and professionals because of the deadly second wave of the pandemic, possibly delaying a national employment policy based on these surveys.
However, the quarterly economic survey will go ahead as the centre as decided to conduct this online.