Renowned economist in conversation with Kailashnath Adhikari, MD, Governance Now
GN Bureau | October 20, 2021
Rubbishing the recently released Global Hunger Index 2021, wherein India has slipped to 101 position to be placed below Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh, Arvind Panagariya, professor of economics at Columbia University and former vice chairman, NITI Aayog, has said that data collection and methodologies used for the index are flawed.
Coming down heavily on how surveys are being carried out and data is collected, Panagariya said, “This is an industry going on for a long time… it is important to look at who they are calling for data and how it is being collected. If they are doing a telephonic call in the midst of a wave and when there is migration and there is pessimism everywhere ... and when waves of Covid are not synchronized across the world,” the results are likely to be biased.
“Armchair people sitting in offices around the world create these indexes. They have made it their source of living to create these indexes with no clear basis to it as they don’t do these surveys. None of them are doing surveys properly. They can’t do it. When you are trying to create a wall under index …. where the data in many countries is so poorly collected …. you are relying on so little information and in effect countries that have minimal information determine the basis of the construction of your index itself.”
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The former economist at the Asian Development Bank said he does not look at indexes and that he had earlier also written a column that three different methodologies were being used to collect data and all were flawed.
Panagariya said that India’s own survey is done by NSSO which is more reliable and has a history of asking people “how many days during the year did you go without a meal or empty stomach hungry to bed, etc., and those numbers are also recorded in columns by Swaminathan Iyer and others. The numbers are tiny and also declining over time.”
He added that India’s food supplies have been growing over time and PDS itself has expanded. In a large country like India there will be pockets of hunger that we will need to address, he said.
While responding to a question on how confident he felt about the IMF, Moody’s, S&P as well as RBI and others pegging India’s growth rate to 9.3% to 9.5% in 2021, Panagariya said the pandemic is extremely difficult to predict. Despite India doing phenomenally good vaccination numbers, he could not predict the course of the virus but most certainly the numbers will be realized. “Fundamentally the economy is sound. If none of the exogenic shocks happen, 9%-10% growth is extremely doable,” he said.
Speaking on the Air India sale to the Tata Group and how he saw the line-up of sale of other PSUs he said he saw Air India sale as a source of great relief and with this the strategic disinvestment programme has started. He however added that we will have to see two-three more sales to really tell that things are on the roll.
Asked if India will be able to achieve its target of both doses of vaccination for 940 million population by December 2021, Panagariya said it will be a challenge. For the population that chooses not to come forward for the vaccine, it will be a problem to create a vaccine demand.
Responding to the question on the coal shortage crisis and if India has done enough to build alternative sources of energy, Panagariya said while the country has done phenomenally well over the last few years under prime minister Narendra Modi, it will be silly to think that the country can go off fossil fuel faster than the rest of world. “We have to be continuing to develop our conventional resources including coal in the next few decades as also its import.”
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