“The entire cycle of data collection, even third parties to whom the collection work is outsourced, will come under the ombudsman,” said an official.
The ministry of statistics and programme implementation (MoSPI) has proposed a data ombudsman for in-house resolution of issues related to the collection of statistics to reduce the number of cases that need legal recourse.
It has also proposed to widen the ambit of the ombudsman as the field work for the ongoing economic census and various National Sample Surveys is being done using outsourced staff.
The data ombudsman is part of the proposed amendments to decriminalise the Collection of Statistics Act, which provides for penal action for refusal and failure to submit data.
The ministry is also proposing to decriminalise certain provisions in the law by introducing stiff penalties instead of imprisonment.
MoSPI also widened the scope of the Act to include processing, storage and dissemination of statistics and generate data systems for other areas of human development. At present, the Act has in its ambit the collection of statistics on economic, demographic, social, scientific and environmental aspects.
“The outsourcing agents will be equally bound and liable for penalty under the Act if they tamper with the data,” the official added. The government has also proposed to increase the penalty ten times for employees and officers for failing to perform their duty in the complete process to Rs 20,000 in the case of individuals and extendable to Rs 1 lakh in the case of companies.
In the ongoing Economic Census 2019, the government has partnered with the Common Service Centres to undertake field work, while the officers of the National Statistical Office, state governments and line ministries are monitoring and supervising the field work.
“The hybrid model is here to stay and the Act needs to be extended to third party agencies and individuals to check for any duplication as they are handling important data,” said Pronab Sen, India’s first chief statistician.
The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Finance last year reprimanded the ministry for resorting to this “hybrid model” saying this method can be a stop-gap arrangement but it cannot be a replacement for the professionalism required for the data collection exercise and the ministry should carry out regular recruitment of qualified/trained staff for this purpose.