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Debate On The Methodology of National Surveys UPSC NOTE


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  • The Government of India recently appointed a panel under the chairmanship of Pronab Sen, former Chief Statistician of India to review the methodology of the National Statistical Organisation (NSO).

Why is there a need for review?

  • This happened in the backdrop of articles by Shamika Ravi and Bibek Debroy.

  • They arguing that the usage of outdated survey methodology by national surveys such as the National Sample Survey (NSS), National Family Health Survey (NFHS) and Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS), have systematically underestimated India’s development. 

  • According to them, this archaic methodology has failed to capture reality in the recent past as the “Indian economy has been incredibly dynamic in the last 30 years”. 

Why is it important?

  • National level data is a key resource for research, policymaking and development planning.

Does the NFHS have a rural bias?

  • The examination of five rounds of NFHS data doesn’t show any such systematic bias towards rural population. 

  • If we match the estimates of the urban population by the NFHS with the corresponding World Bank estimates and urban percentage projections from the Census figures of 1991, 2001 and 2011, it is clear that there is no evidence of any systematic rural bias.

  • On the other hand, there is evidence of rural population underestimation by NFHS-3. 

  • Overestimation of rural population seems to have taken place by NFHS-2 and NFHS-5. 

  • Only NFHS-1 and NFHS-4 estimates seem to be really close to World Bank estimates and projections based on Census data. 

  • However, these errors seem random rather than systematic.

How can we minimise such errors?

  • Generally, there are higher percentages of no-response in urban areas compared to rural areas. 

  • However, this also does not seem to have any systematic relation with either rural or urban bias in estimation. 

  • Nonetheless, no response or not, there seems to be room for improvement in minimising the errors and the way sample weights are assigned.

  • A cursory glance at the percentages of the urban sample in the unweighted sample indicates that assigning appropriate weights may help to correct the errors to a great extent. 

  • If the sample weights are appropriately assigned, after taking into account all possible sources of error, then underrepresentation of either rural or urban seems to get corrected to a large extent.

What next?

  • The Pronab Sen Committee needs to address these concerns to make the sample adequately representative rather than go for a complete overhaul of the survey methodology. 

  • In the name of removing systematic rural bias in survey methodology, which does not seem to exist in the first place.

  • Let us not import systematic urban bias rampant in policymaking, planning and financing to national level surveys. 

  • Let us remove the bias where it actually exists.



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Learnerz IAS | Concept oriented UPSC Classes in Malayalam: Debate On The Methodology of National Surveys UPSC NOTE
Debate On The Methodology of National Surveys UPSC NOTE
Learnerz IAS | Concept oriented UPSC Classes in Malayalam
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