India’s poor performance on various global development indicators despite its growing per capita income is due to systematic biases in estimates of these indicators for India by international organisations, a working paper co-authored by EAC-PM member Sanjeev Sanyal has mentioned.
The growing use of Environment Social and Governance (ESG) norms in investment and trade decisions will mean that real-world decision-making will be increasingly impacted by biased data, the paper has suggested. "Our examination of the above three development indicators (Childhood Stunting, Female Labour Force Participation Rate and Life Expectancy) has demonstrated that there are systematic biases in estimates of socio-development indicators for India by international organisations.
"These are just an illustration of a more widespread problem of consistent downward estimation of various indicators despite growing per capita income," the paper, co-authored by Sanyal, who is a member of the Economic Advisory Council to the Prime Minister of India (EAC-PM), said. The paper titled 'Reversing the Gaze Re-examining Estimates of India’s Development Indicators by International Organisations' said on one hand, flawed estimation by international agencies derives from their own conceptual ambiguity, flawed benchmarks, and shoddy methodology.
"On the other hand, poor survey design, inappropriate choice of benchmarks, and delayed data publication by domestic statistical agencies have not just failed to capture the ground reality of India’s development but have also provided space or justification for the estimates of international agencies," it noted.
According to the paper, both academics and activists should more actively question standards and estimates from international agencies, especially those involving international comparisons such as UNDP’s Gender Inequality Index. "At the international level, India must demand greater transparency and accountability from global agencies on these development indicators, particularly by virtue of being a member of agencies like ILO and WHO among others," the paper said.
While asserting that the Indian authorities must demand greater transparency and accountability from international agencies, the paper said as a member of many of these organizations, India has the right to demand accurate, unbiased estimates. India’s poor performance on certain development indicators has been a matter of hot debate in recent years.
Elaborating further, the paper said, "For instance,we saw how blanket application of an inappropriate global standard for childhood growth resulted in a significant overestimation of malnutrition in India." In contrast, the paper pointed out that not following the International Labour Organisation (ILO) standards for women’s economic contribution underestimated female labour force participation rate in India.
"Both cases are a reflection of the same problem – inadequate application of mind on the appropriateness of global benchmarks and definitions," it noted. The paper claimed that if the Registrar General of India, for instance, were to publish Life Expectancy at Birth estimate annually, it would make it difficult for UN Population Division to publish its misleading estimates without detailed justification.