31-05-2018 (Important News Clippings)
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नया यूरो संकट
अभी हाल तक लग रहा था कि यूरोप की स्थिति काफी बेहतर है। यूरो क्षेत्र में वृद्घि दर की वापसी हो गई थी। यूरोप की कई संकटग्रस्त अर्थव्यवस्थाएं सुधार की राह पर थीं और यूरोपीय क्षेत्र की अवधारणा काफी सुरक्षित नजर आ रही थी। खासतौर पर ब्रेक्सिट के बाद के हालात में जब यहां के लोगों को यूरोपीय संघ के महत्त्व का एहसास हुआ था। परंतु अब यूरोप की तीसरी सबसे बड़ी अर्थव्यवस्था और दुनिया की आठवीं सबसे बड़ी अर्थव्यवस्था वाले देश इटली में उत्पन्न संकट से यह स्थिरता खतरे में दिख रही है। इटली में मार्च में हुए आम चुनाव में लोकलुभावन कदम उठाने वालों की जीत होने के बाद से ही उसे कमजोर कड़ी माना जाने लगा था। उनमें से कई तो खुलकर यूरोप के आदर्शों और संस्थानों का विरोध करते हैं। बीते सप्ताहांत देश में सरकार गठित करने की उन दलों की कोशिश नाकाम हो गई जो अपने मतभेदों के लिए कुख्यात हैं। दरअसल राष्ट्रपति सर्जियो मात्तारेला ने यूरो क्षेत्र को लेकर शंकालु वित्त मंत्री की नियुक्ति के प्रस्ताव को स्वीकार करने से इनकार कर दिया था। राष्ट्रपति इटली के अंतरराष्ट्रीय दायित्वों के संरक्षक भी हैं। परंतु उनके इस निर्णय से लोकलुभावन सरकार के पश्चिमी यूरोप की ओर के दरवाजे भले ही बंद हो गए हों, लेकिन चुनाव के रास्ते अवश्य खुल गए हैं जहां दक्षिणपंथी अतिवादी और अधिक शक्तिशाली होकर सामने आ सकते हैं।
राष्ट्रपति ने कार्यवाहक राष्ट्रपति के रूप में जो चयन किया है उसने कई लोगों को नाराज कर दिया है क्योंकि यह उन लोगों को कतई रास नहीं आ रहा है जिन्होंने एक लोकलुभावन सरकार का चुनाव किया था। उन्होंने कार्यवाहक प्रधानमंत्री के रूप में आईएमएफ के एक पूर्व अधिकारी का चयन किया है जिन्हें इटली में मिस्टर ‘सीजर’ के नाम से जाना जाता है। उन्हें यह नाम अलोकप्रिय और कटौती भरी नीतियों के प्रति लगाव के कारण मिला है। ऐसा लगता नहीं कि उनके पास इतना समय या गुंजाइश होगी जो ऐसे गहन ढांचागत सुधारों को अंजाम दे सके जिसकी इटली को जरूरत है। देश में लालफीताशाही है, करों की दर अधिक है, वृद्घि दर बमुश्किल 1.5 फीसदी है, युवाओं की बेरोजगारी दर 30 फीसदी के स्तर से अधिक है और देश का कर्ज जीडीपी के 133 फीसदी के बराबर है।
आसन्न चुनावों की आशंका ने बाजार को हिला दिया है। हालांकि इटली के ग्रीस की तरह विफल होने की आशंका नहीं है परंतु उसका आकार इतना बड़ा है कि उसे राहत पैकेज देना भी आसान नहीं होगा। परंतु इटली की सरकारी प्रतिभूतियों में कुछ ही घंटे में गिरावट नजर आई। प्रश्न यह है कि क्या पिछले यूरो संकट की तरह इस बार भी यूरोपीय शेयरों के मूल्य में गिरावट आ सकती है। उस बार निवेशकों ने अपना निवेश अमेरिका और ब्रिटेन के सॉवरिन ऋण में डाल दिया था। बाजार से नकदी नदारद हो गई क्योंकि बड़े कारोबारी पीछे हट गए। पूरा दक्षिणी यूरोप संकट में नजर आ रहा है। स्पेन में प्रधानमंत्री मारियानो राजॉय के खिलाफ अविश्वास मत के कारण वहां भी अस्थिरता का माहौल है।
अगर राजनीतिक जोखिम का असर यूरोप में निवेशकों के रुख पर पड़ता है तो भारत समेत तमाम उभरते बाजारों के लिए इसके संकेत भी एकदम स्पष्टï हैं। यह दुर्भाग्यपूर्ण है कि इसका असर उभरते बाजारों की प्रतिभूतियों पर पड़ सकता है और इसका दूसरा नुकसान भी हो सकता है। पहले ही बीते दो महीनों में निवेशकों ने 7 अरब डॉलर मूल्य के भारतीय शेयरों और बॉन्ड की बिकवाली की है। ऐसे में इस प्रक्रिया के गहन होने की पूरी आशंका है। भारत के लिए यह भी दोहराने का समय है कि देश के सबसे बड़े कारोबारी साझेदार यूरोप में संकट स्थानीय कंपनियों और कामगारों को आसानी से दिक्कत में डाल सकता है।
The new biofuels policy is high on ambition, but success will depend on the details
At a time when rising oil prices are putting increasing pressure on the economy, even small steps to encourage the use of biofuels are welcome. The Cabinet this month approved a National Policy on Biofuels, which encourages the generation and use of biofuels such as ethanol. It primarily tries to address supply-side issues that have discouraged the production of biofuels within the country. For one, it allows for a wider variety of raw materials to be used as inputs to produce ethanol that is blended with petrol. Until now, only ethanol produced from sugarcane was approved for this purpose. Under the new policy, feedstock for biofuels includes sugar beet, corn, damaged foodgrain, potatoes, even municipal solid waste. This will likely reduce the cost of producing biofuels and improve affordability for consumers, particularly during times when oil prices reach discomforting levels. In India, industrial-scale availability of ethanol so far has been only from sugar factories, which were free to divert it to other users such as alcohol producers, who would pay more. The oil companies have been floating tenders for ethanol supply, but availability lags behind their needs, because the price is often not attractive enough for the sugar industry. The Centre hopes the new policy will also benefit farmers, who will be able to sell various types of agricultural waste to industry at remunerative prices. But given the technology available, a large chunk of the biofuel will have to come from the sugar sector for now. Therefore, pricing is the key. The government estimates that ethanol supply of around 150 crore litres in 2017-18 could save foreign exchange worth over ₹4,000 crore. The production of biofuels from agricultural waste, it is hoped, will also help curb atmospheric pollution by giving farmers an incentive not to burn it, as is happening in large parts of northern India.
But policy should not get ahead of technological and financial feasibility — and options should be realistically laid out for farmers. There is also a need for caution in using surplus foodgrain to produce ethanol. And while removing the shackles on raw material supply can have definite benefits, it cannot make a significant difference to biofuel production as long as the supply-chain infrastructure that is required to deliver biofuels to the final consumer remains inadequate. To address this issue, the new policy envisages investment to the tune of ₹5,000 crore in building bio-refineries and offering other incentives over the next few years. The government should also take steps to remove policy barriers that have discouraged private investment in building supply chains. Until that happens, India’s huge biofuel potential will continue to remain largely untapped.
Data in a post-truth age
Trust in official statistics is vital for democracy — the new policy must avoid centralisation
Sonalde Desai is Professor of Sociology at the University of Maryland and Senior Fellow and Centre Director, NCAER-National Data Innovation Centre.
David Spiegelhalter, president of Royal Statistical Society in the U.K., gave a most unusual presidential address in 2017. Instead of talking about esoteric statistical techniques, he talked about declining trust in numbers in a post-truth society bombarded by fake news and alternative facts. He recommended to the statistical community that the best way of inspiring trust was to be trustworthy by demonstrating competence, reliability and honesty.
India has been fortunate in inheriting a statistical system from stalwarts like P.C. Mahalanobis and C.R. Rao that has historically demonstrated all three. However, with the growing demand for statistics and increasingly challenging data collection environment, the move by Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation (MOSPI) towards developing a National Policy on Official Statistics is most welcome.
There is much to like in this policy. It notes increasing data needs, lays down the groundwork for ethical data collection, highlights the importance of data quality and addresses the need for documentation and durable data storage. However, it also remains rooted within the confines of governmental administrative structures and does not directly address the criteria identified by Mr. Spiegelhalter. In the Indian context, each of these presents great challenge.
Sample surveys, the bedrock of Indian statistical systems, must make explicit choices about who to ask various questions as well as what to ask and how to ask. In a statistical system developed by renowned statisticians and econometricians, it is not surprising that much attention has been directed towards identifying the universe of respondents and sample selection. However, this is only a small part of the challenge. Given the increasing need for statistics in diverse areas, it is important that scholars from many different disciplines be involved.
The National Sample Survey (NSS) collects data on occupations and industries of workers. In 2009, it suddenly switched from older codes designed in 1968 to new series of codes developed in 2004. This change makes it difficult to differentiate between farmers and farm managers and shopkeepers and sales managers via occupational codes alone. This leaves out such a large portion of the Indian workforce that it is mind-boggling. Why? We decided to adopt international standards developed for industrial societies where self-employed farmers and shopkeepers have been swallowed up by large corporations. I suspect that if a sociologist interested in occupations was involved in overseeing this change, it might not have passed the scrutiny.
How surveys are designed and questions are developed has evolved into a science that transcends the skill set usually employed by our statistical systems. The Reserve Bank of India has adopted an inflation-targeting approach that relies on data on inflation expectations of individuals. In a country where ASER (Annual Status of Education Report) surveys repeatedly document extremely low mathematical skills, how reliable are the data when individuals are asked to compare their expectations of inflation rates over the coming year with that in the future? We have little understanding of reliability and validity of these data, and yet they form the bedrock of our policy. Experiments designed by cognitive anthropologists, educational assessment experts and survey design specialists are needed to arrive at the correct questions. And even then, we will need some way of estimating uncertainty surrounding these results.
The draft policy as well as many other reports have paid great attention to the fact that data collection is increasingly being done by contractual employees and for-profit organisations. Supervising them and ensuring their honesty remains challenging. While improved technology for monitoring fieldwork such as random segment audio recording of interviews and real-time checks for detecting frauds and errors may help increase honesty, there is no substitute for empathy and experience. Whenever I talk about interviewer errors and fraud, I recall doing a health-related interview in a mosquito-infested locality. I was bravely suffering through mosquito bites until my respondent told me her husband was recovering from malaria and I simply wanted to flee her home. We expect interviewers to work under challenging circumstances and often send them out to collect data with little training and support. A nimble survey management structure that understands the difficulties of on-the-ground data collectors and responds appropriately to find ways of ensuring quality and honesty must form the cornerstone of good data collection.
The draft policy on official statistics engages with these challenges only tangentially. Instead, it chooses to follow the report of the C. Rangarajan-led National Statistical Commission (NSC) submitted in 2001 and focusses largely on coordination within different ministries at the Centre and between State governments and the Centre. A tendency to centralise authority and decision-making within well-defined structures such as the NSC forms the core of the policy statement. It also recommends that a registered society under the oversight of MOSPI be set up with ₹2,000 crore endowment that will be tasked with all government data collection and statistical analyses.
Instead of creating a statistical data ecosystem that harnesses the energy of diverse institutions and disciplines in which innovative thinking on data collection and analysis could be undertaken, this tendency towards centralisation may well isolate official statistical systems. This is quite a departure from India’s illustrious history. Mahalanobis was instrumental in setting up both the Indian Statistical Institute (ISI) and what was to become the National Sample Survey Organisation. Most of the early innovations implemented in the NSS emerged from work by academics at the ISI. However, as former member of the NSS Governing Council, T.J. Rao, notes, the collaboration between academics and the NSS has weakened substantially in recent years. The proposed move would lead to even further alienation of official statistical systems from the academic and research infrastructure of the nation.
Harness diverse energies
If we are to revitalise India’s statistical infrastructure, it is vitally important to harness diverse energies from academic and research institutions such as the ISI, the Indian Agricultural Statistics Research Institute, National Council of Applied Economic Research, the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, the International Institute for Population Sciences, the Delhi School of Economics, the Madras Institute of Development Studies and the National Institute of Rural Development and Panchayati Raj. Smaller, technology-savvy private sector organisations may also make important contributions in technology-driven data collection. Around the world, in diverse countries such as China, South Africa, Brazil, the U.K. and the U.S., statistical ecosystems consist of universities, research institutions and government agencies working synergistically. The proposed policy on official statistics is timely and thoughtful but it is also isolationist. Creative thinking about building synergies with diverse communities such as academic and research institutions would strengthen it and reduce the burden on the NSC, leaving it free to devote greater attention to developing quality control parameters and to play an oversight and coordination role.
The phrase ‘figures don’t lie, but liars figure’ seems to sum up the motif of a post-statistics society. A report in The Guardian in 2017 noted declining trust in official statistics around the world and argued that it damages democracy by jeopardising public knowledge and public argument. The draft National Policy on Official Statistics offers a great start for fostering trust in statistics but enhancing its inclusiveness will go a long way towards encouraging competence, reliability and honesty in public statistics.