Dr Avik Sarkar, Officer on Special Duty (OSD) at NITI Aayog and In-charge of the NITI Aayog Data Analytics Cell, visited the Applied Statistics and Computing Lab at the Indian School of Business in March 2018. Below are excerpts of his conversation with Professor Bhimasankaram Pochiraju, Clinical Professor and Executive Director of the ASLC. Professor Pochiraju passed away in early April 2018. This Face-to-Face, scheduled to appear in the July 2018 print issue of ISBInsight, is dedicated to Professor Pochiraju’s memory.
Professor Bhimasankaram Pochiraju: Data is very important for the NITI Aayog. Where do you get your data?
Dr Avik Sarkar: Data is a primary tool for policy making. That is how it has always been. The Planning Commission was initially established on the basis of these data fundamentals. We have been doing surveys for the last 70 years.
Now India needs to improve and use more technology in the survey methodology. The National Sample Surveys are done at five-year intervals, and have a lag time of four years. If you do a survey in 2011, you get the result in 2015. That is because you start the survey in 2011 and you complete it until 2013 or 2014 and then you spend one year validating the data. After analysis and report writing, it takes till 2015 to release the data for 2011. This lag can be removed by the use of technology.
We have a very good system in place. We give our recommendations to the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation (MOSPI) on how they can use technology and geo-tagging. Because often the surveyor does not need to go to the houses. You can actually store geo-based location information.
So, we have been relying on surveys and MOSPI. Going forward, we are using a lot more operational data collected by ministries and augmenting that with other data forms. In 2018, we cannot completely rely on survey data . We need to use new data techniques, otherwise we will be giving back-dated policy advice to the country.