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Importance of Reliable Data in Policy Making

For any poverty reduction and vulnerability mitigation programme, household data collection is needed

G Palanithurai
Publish Date: Apr 16 2016 10:54PM | Updated Date: Apr 16 2016 10:54PM

Importance of Reliable Data in Policy Making

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For any poverty reduction and vulnerability mitigation programme, household data collection with accuracy is greatly needed. For this the Government, instead of relying on any other agency or agencies, should take a help from local bodies and educational institutions for both data collection and their validation

Sound policy making depends on sound data management system. For precise policy making feeding of accurate and scientific data is most essential and an imperative need. Faulty policies are the outcome of the incorrect feeding of data into the policy making mechanism. Many of the occasions while evaluating the policies, evaluators have pinpointed the inaccuracy of the data supplied to the policy or decision making system. Data collection, data validation and data management are problematic areas. In India various agencies and institutions are involved in collecting, collating and analysing data. Only a few data sets are being fed into policy making process. Of the dataset, Government of India is relying on NSSO (National Sample Survey Organisation) data for policy making process. Arguments are projected that scientific data collection is highly difficult job in Indian social setting especially for collecting household data.
For many of the commissions and committees writing reports will be problematic as collecting relevant data for the task is highly tough job. Approximation is the only possible way because of the size of the country and population. Different types of data are being collected by adopting different tools, techniques and approaches by different agencies and individuals from the World Bank to village panchayat. Collecting data relating to household is the problematic one and yet it is necessary for poverty reduction, risk reduction vulnerability mitigation and resilience building. Till date it is subjected to criticism because of its inaccuracy.
In a recent interview a noble laureate who received noble prize for economics this year made an observation while giving interview to an Indian television channel that the data provided by the Indian Government cannot be relied on. He said that the data projected by the Government on development are not very scientific and he will not rely on the data set. He made this observation based on his own experience in analysing the institutional data through past twenty years. Well being of people and development of the society solely relied on the sound welfare policies, decisions and programmes which have been evolved based on the household data set provided to the Government by various agencies.
Data are being collected by various agencies from international agency to individuals depending on their requirement. But they are being contested. Scholars believe only the NSSO data as they have got reliability. Even this was also contested. For meaningful decision making household data with accuracy are the need but they are not available at present.
Of the data set collecting data pertinent to household is a challenging task in India. In this regard, several attempts have been made since independence yet one could not find a reliable system in place at present to present a scientific household data set. Neither the households nor the enumerators have evinced real interest in getting and project a reliable household dataset. If anyone goes to any village for data collection, it is assumed by the respondents in the village that the data are meant for the Government to evolve schemes. With this assumption the respondents give reply to the questions of the enumerators. They want to project themselves to the enumerators as poor. One cannot get the real data on poverty from the households. The enumerators never invent innovative data collection methods to get the accurate data from the households. The data enumerators use to inform the respondents that they are collecting the data to be passed on to the Government for evolving suitable schemes to the poor. Many of the academic institutions do not have ethical committees to supervise data collection activities of the research project in the universities. At present, it is appropriate to fix a responsible institution for complete enumeration of household data. Since local bodies both urban and rural have been constitutionally created on a permanent basis, it is necessary to leave that responsibility of collecting household data to them by evolving a data sheet by the reputed research institutions. Periodically the data have to be updated.
To justify my argument, I want to quote an exercise that happened in a Gram Sabha meeting of a Gram Panchayat. There was an exercise in a Gram Panchayat to finalise a list of poor households in the Panchayat under BPL. It happened in Vadugampadi Gram Panchayat, Gujiliamparai block, Dindigul district. The Gram Sabha meeting of the Gram Panchayat was held to finalise the BPL (Below Poverty Line) list. The Government has given a list containing 427 families. The entire list was read out in the meeting. Nearly 307 households’ names have been removed from the list. They have added 97 families in the list. The Gram Sabha has finalised the list based on certain criteria. They fixed indicators for poverty. The family should not have own land for cultivation. They rely on only the wage earned by the head of the family. They do not have any pucca house. Likewise they have evolved seven indicators. All the Gram Sabha members have agreed to those criteria. Based on the above criteria they excluded certain families and included certain other families. Name of the families which have been removed from the list in the presence of the family members in the Gram Sabha meetings. Household names which have been included in the absence of their family members in Gram Sabha. All these discourses were held in the presence of the observer (a Government officer from the rural development department). It was done in a scientific way. Only 217 families have been included in the list.
Based on the above experience I have been pleading to entrust that responsibility to the local bodies to collect, validate and maintain household data. If that task is given to local body, it will be done meticulously. What we need is data collection through local bodies that also validate and maintain them. At present, the 14th Finance Commission has given the responsibility of looking after the well being of the community through preparing a perspective development plan. For a village perspective plan, data pertinent to household is necessary. The village Panchayat has to enumerate the details of the households. They need tools for data collection. They need training and household support. In this country, we have more than 745 universities, 39000 colleges and 8 million students and 11000 research institutions and they are the biggest support agencies for the local bodies to enumerate and establish scientific data base for households in urban and rural areas. 
G Palanithurai is an academic activist besides being Professor and Dean Gandhigram Rural Institute, a Deemed University in South India