C.G. Lal *
    Independence in 1947 ushered in an era of economic planning and emphasised the necessity of a strong data base covering a variety of social and economic topics. The system of data collection left behind by the colonial rulers was far from adequate to meet this immediate demand. It did not even provide the basic data required for estimation of national income. A strong statistical base was built in fifties at the instance of the Prime Minister, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. Today, the Department of Statistics of the Government of India is the apex body in the official statistical system of the country. It comprises the Central Statistical Organisation (CSO), the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) and the Computer Centre (CC).


    National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) was set up in 1950 as a permanent survey organisation to conduct national sample surveys to assist in socio-economic planning and policy-making. The first round of NSS, covering rural India was conducted during 1950-51. Since then NSSO has been conducting sample surveys on a variety of subjects and the data have been widely used by the Government, social scientists and other users. The work of NSSO has won international acclaim and stimulated the creation of similar organisations in other developing countries.


    For coordination of statistical activities of the different Central Ministries and the State governments and for promotion of statistical standards, the Central Statistical Organisation (CSO) was created in May 1951. CSO prepares national accounts, compiles and publishes industrial statistics and conducts economic census and surveys. The Computer Centre (CC) was set up in 1967 as an attached office of the Department of Statistics to cater to the data processing needs of the Department and other Departments of the Union Government.

First Sample Survey

    The NSS conducted the first sample survey on multi-subject household enquiries, designed to fill gaps in the data required for planning, in randomly selected villages and urban blocks spread over the entire geographical area of the country. The first 'round' (Oct 1950-March 1951) and the second round (Apr-June 1951) of NSS were conducted in a sample of 1833 and 1,160 villages, respectively. Urban areas were first covered in the third round (August-November 1951). In this round, a sample of 920 villages and 490 urban blocks were covered at the all-India level. At present, NSS covers, in each round, a sample of about 12,000 to 14,000 villages and blocs at the all-India level through 'State samples' (covered by various States/Union Territories).

Other Surveys

    The all-India household consumer expenditure survey started with the first round of NSS, giving the first all-India picture. The NSS enquiries on consumer expenditure are now the main source of data on level of living of the Indian population. The data thrown up by these enquiries form the basis of all poverty calculations carried out by the Planning Commission, which include setting up of the poverty line and estimation of the number and proportion of “poor” in different regions of the country. The survey on employment and unemployment was started with the ninth round of NSS to assess the volume and structure of employment and unemployment.

    In 1954-55, NSS conducted the first household survey of land holdings in its eighth round. This historic enquiry threw up data on the size distribution of land holdings at a time when land reform legislation was being enacted in different States. Crop estimation surveys, covering principal crops, started by the NSS in 1957-58, helped to put crop statistics in India on a sound statistical footing.

    Data on literacy, education, health and morbidity are essential for evaluation of the need for government action in each of these areas. The NSSO is the only source that provides periodic estimates of literacy, school enrolment, utilisation of educational services, general morbidity, maternity and child care and utilisation of medical services. It also conducts survey to estimate the total number of physically disabled persons in the country and utilisation of the public distribution system.

    The NSS started collection of data on condition of  ' dwelling units, and basic housing amenities available to them, from its seventh round. However, comprehensive independent surveys on housing condition to provide reliable estimates at State/UT level for both rural and urban areas of the country were first undertaken in 1973-74, and then in 1988-89 and 1993. The first Debt and Investment survey was conducted by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) in 1951- 52 and christened the 'All India Rural Debt Survey'. This and the subsequent one, carried out in 1961-62 again by the RBI were limited to rural areas only. However, in 1971-72, this survey was conducted along with the Land Holdings Survey of the 26th round of NSS and covered in the subsequent 37th and 48th Rounds. A continuous series of retail and wholesale prices is available in India for a fairly long time. The rural retail prices are being collected by the NSS since the early 50’s (from the fifth round onwards). In addition, the NSS collects data on retail prices from a number of urban centres. The rural retail prices are used by the Labour Bureau to construct Consumer Price Index (CPI) numbers for agricultural labourers, and the urban retail prices are used by the CSO to construct CPI numbers for non-manual workers. NSS data on socio-economic surveys are regularly released through the quarterly publication Sarvekshana issued by the Department of Statistics. Recent Improvements Several steps have been taken to ensure that results of any survey become available to its users within about 12 months of the completion of field work. Two additional data processing centres have been set up in Ahmedabad and Bangalore to enhance the processing capabilities of NSSO. The estimates based on the surveys conducted in 1993-94 were finalised in 1995 and could be used by the Planning Commission for formulation of the Ninth Five Year Plan. The NSSO, equipped with upgraded hardware, has enhanced its capabilities of data processing immensely. A number of innovative data-processing packages have been developed in-house to strengthen the existing systems design. The Survey Design & Research Division of NSSO is constantly striving to shorten the length of the schedule as also to improve upon its content through extensive pilot studies. This will not only improve the quality of data, by reducing informant fatigue, but also cut down on processing time significantly. In recent times, extensive use of PCUs and other hardware devices in preparation of reports has helped to bring significant improvement in terms of both quality and presentability.

National Accounts

    The first official estimates of the national income, prepared by the CSO at constant prices with base year 1948-49, as well as at current prices, were brought out in 1956. The coverage of the National Accounts Statistics was gradually extended to incorporate, successively, estimates of private consumption, expenditure, capital formation and savings, factor incomes, consolidated accounts of the nation and detailed accounts of the public sector. In 1978, a White Paper was published introducing another change in base year, this time to 1970-71, for the constant prices series. Estimates of this new series were published in "National Accounts Statistics", 1978.

    In February 1988, the CSO released a new series of national accounts aggregates with 1980-81 as base year. Various methodological improvements were carried out in preparing the 1980-81 series. Efforts were made to use as much current data as possible to replace the proportions based on the old benchmark surveys. Special mention should be made of data collected under the programme of follow-up surveys of the Economic Census.

Index of Industrial Production

    The index of industrial production (IIP) prepared by the CSO is the most up-to-date indicator of industrial growth in the Indian economy. The index of industrial production with base year 1980-81 is compiled and released every month. This estimate get revised subsequently on receipt of updated data. To capture the structural change in the industrial sector it has been decided to shift the base year of the existing sources of IIP to a more recent period.

Economic Census (EC)

    Economic Census (EC) and follow-up surveys were introduced in 1977. EC provides basic details about all economic enterprises in the country. The follow-up surveys are the only dependable source of information on the unorganised sector of non-agricultural production for the preparation of the national accounts. The second EC was conducted in 1980 with the house-listing operations of the 1981 population census. The third EC was carried out in 1990 along with the house-listing operations of the 1991 population census.

    To fill data gaps CSO has conducted surveys on Directory trading establishments (1990-91), own account enterprises and establishments covering services sector (1991-92), mining quarrying and storage and warehousing (1992-93), hotels & restaurants and transport (1994). The CSO also launched an enterprise survey covering services sector during 1997-98.

Human Development Statistics

    The CSO plays the role of a coordinator covering the fields of population, human development, manpower, employment, health, education and social welfare, and maintenance of specific standards in these fields. As a follow-up action of the ESCAP Project on Improvement of Statistics on Gender Issues, the CSO has brought out the second issue of the publication "Women and Men in India, 1995".

    The CSO has assumed the responsibility for development of statistical standards in environment statistics and strengthening of data base in the area of environment statistics. A country paper on Review of Current Status of Environment Statistics in India has been prepared for the purpose. A steering committee has been constituted for implementation of the ADB Project on Institutional Strengthening and Collection of Environment Statistics.

Price Statistics

    Data on urban retail prices are collected every month in 59 selected urban centres throughout India for about 250 items, including 15 items of selected service charges. Information is also collected on house rent and off take of commodities. Based on this data, CSO prepares, on a monthly basis, the Consumer Price Index (CPI) numbers for urban non-manual employees (UNME) with base 1984-85. These indices are used for planning and policy formulations by the Government as well as private and public agencies. A six- monthly brochure giving subgroup and group-wise CPI for UNME pertaining to the period Jan-June 1995 has also been prepared.

*  Director, Department of Statistics