The Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation’s Central Statistics Office had finalised the Gross Domestic Product back series data nearly three years ago after the base year was changed from 2004-2005 to 2011-2012, The Indian Express reported on Friday. The data had shown an upward revision in growth rates for the years the United Progressive Alliance-led government was in power but the NITI Aayog rejected it.

TCA Anant, who was India’s chief statistician at the time, confirmed this. Arvind Panagariya, the NITI Aayog vice chairperson at that time, was unavailable for comment. “Niti Aayog had issues with a particular proxy we used for corporate sector growth estimates,” Anant told The Indian Express. He added that the NITI Aayog should have looked at sector-wise data instead of overall growth rates.

Former chairperson of the National Statistical Commission Probab Sen, who was present at the meeting where the NITI Aayog rejected the report, said: “NITI Aayog took just one look at the growth rates which were going higher after 2004-’05 and said, ‘We cannot allow it’.” Sen said there was “a question on the robustness of relationships, for example, between MCA [Ministry of Company Affairs] and RBI data”. There were ways of getting around it, he added.

On November 28, the Central Statistics Office published a new back series data showing that growth during the UPA years was lower than earlier estimated. According to the figures, the average growth rate under the UPA was 6.7%, compared to 7.3% under Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Previous numbers had put the average growth rate during the UPA years at 7.75%.

The data was released at a conference by NITI Aayog Vice Chairperson Rajiv Kumar and Chief Statistician Pravin Srivastava. Many, including Sen, have questioned the role of NITI Aayog – a government think tank whose head is a political appointee – in releasing data of the Central Statistics Office, which comes under a Union ministry. Kumar, however, defended his presence at the unveiling, claiming that his department was asked to look at the figures before they were released.

“Every [GDP estimation] exercise is an evolutional process,” Pravin Srivastava said. “The methodology we used is consistent with SNA 2008 [System of National Accounts of 2008, which is recommended by the United Nations]. It is not growth rate that you rework; what you do is essentially recalibrate the data with contribution of different sectors.”

Asked if he worked on the data rejected by NITI Aayog, Srivastava said it would not be fair to say that. “Given the absence of data, there was a need to evolve on it,” he added.