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It replaces a committee which examined economic datasets only; move follows sharp critiques

of India’s statistical machinery; new panel to advise govt. on surveys, identify and plug data gaps

The Union government has constituted a new internal oversight mechanism for official data, revamping a Standing Committee on Economic Statistics (SCES) set up in late 2019, soon after the findings from the last round of household surveys on consumption expenditure and employment were junked over “data quality issues”.

In an order issued last Thursday, the Statistics Ministry said that the SCES, which was tasked with examining economic indicators only, will now be replaced by a Standing Committee on Statistics (SCoS) which has a broader mandate to review the framework and results of all surveys conducted under the aegis of the National Statistical Office (NSO).

Pronab Sen, former Chairman of the National Statistical Commission (NSC), has been named the chair of the new panel.

‘System overhaul’

The SCoS — with “enhanced terms of reference” vis-à-vis the SCES, “to ensure more coverage” — has 10 official members, and four non-official members who are eminent academics. It can have up to 16 members, as per the order issued by the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation.

The development comes amid sharp critiques of India’s statistical machinery by members of the Economic Advisory Council to the Prime Minister, including its chairperson Bibek Debroy. He had mooted an overhaul of the system, and contended that the Indian Statistical Service has “little expertise in survey design”.

“The term of the SCES was coming to an end in any case, so it was decided to expand the committee’s mandate beyond economic data and advise the Ministry on technical aspects for all surveys, such as sampling frame, design, survey methodology and finalisation of results,” an official said.

Apart from addressing issues raised from time to time on the subject, results and methodology for all surveys, the terms of reference of the SCoS include identification of data gaps that need to be filled by official statistics, along with a strategy to plug those gaps. It has been mandated to explore the use of administrative statistics to improve data outcomes. While the panel will help finalise survey results, the NSC will have the ultimate authority to approve the publication of those results.

The hoolock gibbon, unique to the Northeast, is one of 20 species of apes at a high risk of extinction

The conservation status of India’s only ape was a cause for concern at a global event on gibbons held a week ago in China.

Gibbons, the smallest and fastest of all apes, live in tropical and subtropical forests in the southeastern part of Asia. The hoolock gibbon, unique to India’s Northeast, is one of 20 species of gibbons on Earth.

The estimated population of hoolock gibbons is 12,000.

“Like all apes, they are extremely intelligent, with distinct personalities and strong family bonds. Unfortunately, the current conservation status of gibbon species is alarming – all 20 species are at a high risk of extinction. Since 1900, gibbon distribution and populations have declined dramatically, with only small populations in tropical rainforests,” the Global Gibbon Network (GGN), which had its first meeting at Haikou in China’s Hainan province from July 7-9 said.

Dilip Chetry, a senior primatologist who heads the primate research and conservation division at Aaranyak, an Assam-based non-profit conservation organisation, gave an account of the conservation status of the hoolock gibbon in India.

The hoolock gibbon faces threat primarily from the felling of trees for infrastructure projects.

“GGN was founded with a vision to safeguard and conserve a key element of Asia’s unique natural heritage – the singing gibbon and their habitats, by promoting participatory conservation policies, legislations, and actions,” Dr Chetry said.

Aaranyak, he said, is one of the 15 founding organisations of the GGN from seven countries.

One species, not two

American naturalist R. Harlan was the first to describe the hoolock gibbon, characterised by their vigorous vocal displays, from Assam in 1834.

Over the decades, zoologists thought the Northeast housed two species of the ape – the eastern hoolock gibbon (Hoolock leuconedys) found in a specific region of Arunachal Pradesh and the western hoolock gibbon(Hoolock hoolock)distributed elsewhere in the northeast.

A study led by Hyderabad-based Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB) in 2021 proved through genetic analysis that there is only one species of ape in India. It debunked earlier research that the eastern hoolock gibbon was a separate species based on the colour of its coat.

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