As a political row broke out over the back series GDP data, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley Thursday jumped in to defend the downward revision in growth rates during the previous UPA regime, saying the new numbers were reflective of real state of the economy.
With his predecessor P Chidambaram calling revised GDP growth rates "a bad joke" and "a hatchet job", Jaitley took the attack to the opposition camp saying the Congress leader had previously welcomed the GDP numbers based on a new series when the data was revised upwards for the last two years of the UPA regime but is now criticising when the same formula has been used to re-state the numbers of previous years.
"The new series is more broad-based and is a better reflection of the Indian economy. It is globally more comparable," he said as he defended the work of Central Statistics Office (CSO) -- the agency responsible for collating the data. "The CSO is a highly credible organisation, it maintains an arm's length distance from the finance ministry."
The new numbers show India's economic growth rate averaged 6.7 per cent during the Congress-led UPA regime as compared to 7.3 per cent under the present government. Previous numbers had put the average growth rate during the 10-year UPA rule at 7.75 per cent.
Chidambaram, however, called the exercise a "bad joke". "Now that NITI Aayog has done the hatchet job, it is time to wind up the utterly worthless body," he tweeted. "The earlier numbers were calculated by the National Statistical Commission. Has the Commission been disbanded?"
Former Chief Statistician Pronab Sen, he said, is absolutely correct. "Niti Aayog has nothing to do with tabulation of data."
"I wonder if Niti Aayog Vice Chairman Rajiv Kumar will agree to a debate the data than telling journalists that their questions are "undeserving of an answer"," he had tweeted.
Kumar, who had Wednesday hosted Chief Statistician Pravin Srivastava to announce the so-called backseries data, accepted the challenge.
"Let's discuss & dissect back series data. I gave 3 hrs of detailed interview yesterday & it is somewhat disingenuous of you to say that I asked the media to not ask questions. Do give more coherent reasons for ur difficulty with new data," he tweeted.
He defended the Wednesday's press conference saying "NITIAayog uses data extensively for making logical policy recommendations. The data is always based on assessment & quality check by eminent statisticians."
"Therefore, it was logical for @NITIAayog to provide the platform for its release. Pronab Sen would know that MOSPI & Yojana Bhavan worked closely together," he said in another tweet.
Speaking to PTI, Sen, however, said the "integrity of CSO has been dented".
"We have always had a system that data CSO brings out is completely removed from the political interference. Even the Prime Minister would get to know of the numbers just before they are released," he said. "Now to do that alongside NITI Aayog, which is a political institution like the (previous) Planning Commission was, is essentially diluting the integrity of the CSO."
"When a political institution releases national statistical data, it puts a huge question mark on the credibility of the data and the political independence of the statistical agencies," he said. "The credibility of CSO has been badly dented, not because of the data but because of the manner in which the release has been done," he said.
Jaitley said the CSO, in 2015, changed the way of calculating Gross Domestic Product (GDP). GDP growth rate estimates were revised from the year 2012-13 onwards with 2011-12 being the base year.
This led to upward revision in growth numbers for last two years of UPA which Chidambaram had on February 3, 2015, publicly welcomed saying it established "the fact that UPA succeeded to revive the economy" and ended "misconceived charges that UPA mismanaged the economy".
So, when the new series is in place, it has to be used as a basis for backward revision. "Consequently, the same basis which improved the growth estimate in the last two years of the UPA government somewhat downgraded it in the earlier years," he said. "Those who took after the new series in 2015 now consider the new series to be a 'hatched job' and a 'bad joke'. What humours some when data shows an upward trend depresses them if it moves in the reverse direction."
"The Congress party's reaction is given by those who perhaps have a nodding acquaintance with the subject. Data based on facts and on the best global practices is rejected by the party because it takes away the last of its surviving arguments 'my GDP growth was higher than yours'," he added.
Senior Congress leader Anand Sharma said integrity of Indian data has come suspect "by fudging of the GDP data to massage the ego of Prime Minister Modi and hide the miserable performance and mismanagement of the Indian economy".
His colleague Jairam Ramesh said "the venerable CSO has now been converted into a NAMO (Numbers Adjustment and Manipulation Organisation)."