An expert panel set up to review the 2017-’18 consumer expenditure survey suggested ways to improve such reports in future, as claimed by the government, but did not recommend junking the report it was asked to examine, Business Standard reported on Thursday. The newspaper had earlier claimed that the government had withheld the report due to its adverse findings.

The survey, prepared by the National Statistical Office, had revealed that the monthly per capita consumption expenditure had declined in 2017-’18 for the first time since the 1970s, the newspaper had reported on Friday. A committee had approved the report for release on June 19, but it has not yet been published.

After Friday’s news report, the government had claimed that it had found concerns with the survey’s figures and had referred them to a committee of experts, which noted the “discrepancies” and gave recommendations to refine the survey methodology and improve data quality. The government said it had decided not to release the 2017-’18 report due to “data quality” issues.

However, the newspaper on Thursday reported, quoting an unidentified official, that the panel had not found “any issues related to data collection and data validation” in the 2017-’18 report. The panel did give its recommendations for improving future NSO surveys, the official said.

The panel was set up under the leadership of National Statistical Commission member GC Manna and had members from the NSO and the Central Statistics Office.

The official quoted by Business Standard said that the committee corroborated the survey report’s findings with the periodic labour force survey that the National Statistical Office conducted between July 2017 and June 2018. The labour force survey was also withheld for five months before being released in May. The panel of experts found that average wage of workers had decreased between 2011-’12 and 2017-’18. “The falling wage in rural areas matched the declining consumer expenditure trend during this period,” said the official.

The committee found increasing divergence between the private final consumption expenditure data, and the consumer expenditure figures. “The divergence has further increased in 2017-’18 compared to 2011-’12 and the committee recommended ways in which this can be plugged in future surveys,” the official added. “The committee did not recommend the ministry to junk the report.”

The survey, conducted between July 2017 and June 2018, showed that the monthly per capita consumption expenditure was Rs 1,446 in 2017-’18, compared with Rs 1,501 in 2011-’12 – a decline of 3.7% in six years. The decline was primarily because of rural areas, where consumer spending fell by 8.8%. The figure rose by 2% for urban areas.

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