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How COVID-19, citizenship protests delayed crucial survey that will improve inflation data

Last year, some villages stopped surveyors thinking they were working on the Citizenship Amendment Act, and then the pandemic and the lockdowns came in the way, delaying the survey which is expected to improve the calculation of inflation.

June 21, 2021 / 12:17 PM IST

A crucial, nationwide official survey of household consumption and spending, which will help revamp retail inflation data, is being deferred for two years because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Pronab Sen, head of the standing committee on statistics, told Moneycontrol that the Centre had suspended the work on consumer expenditure survey which was scheduled to begin from July this year.

The survey has already been postponed many times since the beginning of last year, first due to the protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act in early 2020, and then the nationwide lockdown, he said. Sen was India’s first Chief Statistician.

With lockdowns and curfews being imposed by various states across the country due to the second wave, and the resultant fear that has arisen, especially in rural areas, Sen said that the survey will now probably begin next calendar year.

“We've been trying to update CPI inflation by conducting a household consumption expenditure survey, which is the basis for the CPI calculation. We were unable to do it the first time around because of protests against CAA. In some parts of the country, field investigators were not allowed into the village because they from the government and people thought that they had come to do the CAA work,” Sen said.

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“Then after that, we had to withdraw the field workers simply because that would be exposing them to an unacceptable level of risk. This time, it’s even worse now that Covid has spread strongly in rural India,” he said.

Fear in Rural India

Surveyors will be provided protective equipment like masks and PPE kits, and many are fully vaccinated, being central and state government frontline workers, but there is still a level of risk involved, coupled with fear factor, especially in rural India.

“This survey cannot be done over the phone, unlike the existing CPI data collection. These are a new set of questions with a new methodology and will have to be carried out-door-to-door,” Sen said.

He cited examples of villages which, during the deadly second wave, were not letting their returning migrants come into the village and are quarantining them outside. “Hence it is uncertain how they would react to strangers,” he said.

“We were planning to launch the survey in July. Now, that's clearly not happening. We are already talking about 2022,” Sen said. He, however, added that the date of commencement of the survey remains uncertain.

“Till such time as both the threat of the pandemic and the fear factor are gone. We will have a hard time getting it done, “ Sen remarked.

The former chief statistician said vaccinating a large portion of the population which is expected to be done in 2022 is a critical step but it does not guarantee sufficient reduction in the fear psychosis for the survey work to begin, particularly in rural India.
Shreeja Singh
first published: Jun 21, 2021 11:38 am

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