Skip to main content

Valid concern? India's food security, hunger data remain undisclosed, for 'internal' use

By Nandlal Mishra* 

In a recent article published in the “Indian Express” on July 7, 2023, Shamika Ravi brings attention to the valid concern of assessing the data quality of large-scale national surveys such as National Sample Survey (NSS), Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS) and National Family Health Survey (NFHS). While her argument raises important points, the example she chooses to support her argument is flawed. It is essential to address this misconception and highlight the actual limitations of sample surveys.
Ravi states that major surveys conducted in India post-2011, which utilized the 2011 census as the sampling frame, have significantly overestimated the proportion of the rural population. However, this argument overlooks the fundamental constraint of sample surveys that to select representative rural and urban populations these surveys rely on the most recent census data available to identify areas as either rural or urban. Due to resource and time limitations, it is not feasible for surveys to independently define an area as rural or urban. Hence, they rely on existing census data for this purpose.
The classification of an area as rural or urban is the responsibility of the Office of the Registrar General of India (RGI), not the survey organizers. Therefore, if an area was defined as rural in the 2011 census, it would be considered rural in all subsequent surveys, till next census data is available, even if it meets the criteria to be classified as urban during that time.
Considering that the proportion of rural population in the 2011 census was 69 per cent, the share of rural population in these sample surveys should ideally be around 69 per cent. In reality, the estimates for the rural population in these surveys conducted during last decade are quite accurate, with only a small overestimation of 1 to 2 percent in exceptional cases. This overestimation can be attributed to lower response rates in urban areas across all these surveys. Thus, the slight overestimation is a result of non-response in urban areas, presenting a new challenge for data producers.
Furthermore, Ravi compares these survey estimates with the projected rural population figures of different years provided by the RGI Expert Committee. However, comparing these estimates with survey data based on the sampling frames obtained from the 2011 census, which are supposed to align with the census figures regardless of the year of the survey, is not a fair comparison. Therefore, the example chosen by Ravi is not reflective of data quality issues but rather the inherent limitations of surveys relying on census data for defining rural and urban areas.
Estimates for rural population in these surveys are quite accurate, with only a small overestimation of 1 to 2 percent in exceptional cases
Now, let’s address the chart provided alongside the article. The first two surveys (NSS 68th round) mentioned in the chart were designed and carried out in 2011-12, prior to the release of the census data from 2011. These surveys relied on sampling frames obtained from the census conducted in 2001, resulting in an estimation of the rural population by over 71 per cent. Furthermore, chart itself was distorted, failing to represent equal distances on the x-axis with equal intervals. It is crucial to present data accurately and meaningfully, as incorrect visualizations can lead to misleading interpretations.
Instead of focusing on examples prone to default errors, Ravi could have chosen indicators such as dependency ratio, sex ratio, literacy rate, households with access to electricity, improved water, and improved sanitation facilities. These indicators are less susceptible to inbuilt errors and would have provided a more accurate representation of data quality concerns.
Moving forward, it is imperative for the government to expedite the conduct of the 2021 census. This will ensure the availability of an updated sampling frame for sample surveys, leading to more accurate estimates, including the proportions of urban and rural populations. An updated census will address the limitations associated with using outdated data, enabling survey organizers to accurately define areas as rural or urban based on current circumstances.
Ravi raises a valid concern regarding transparency in data. An example of this is the 78th round of NSS conducted in 2020-21, which collected data on food security and hunger but has not been released to the public. The report states that this data was collected for internal use, leaving readers perplexed as to why it remains undisclosed. 
Releasing the hunger data would enable a better assessment of claims made by global hunger indices and other surveys regarding the hunger and malnutrition crisis in the country. Transparency in data release is crucial for fostering trust in the survey process and facilitating informed policy decisions.
*Doctoral fellow at International Institute for Population Sciences, Mumbai



'Flawed' argument: Gandhi had minimal role, naval mutinies alone led to Independence

Counterview Desk Reacting to a Counterview  story , "Rewiring history? Bose, not Gandhi, was real Father of Nation: British PM Attlee 'cited'" (January 26, 2016), an avid reader has forwarded  reaction  in the form of a  link , which carries the article "Did Atlee say Gandhi had minimal role in Independence? #FactCheck", published in the site The article seeks to debunk the view, reported in the Counterview story, taken by retired army officer GD Bakshi in his book, “Bose: An Indian Samurai”, which claims that Gandhiji had a minimal role to play in India's freedom struggle, and that it was Netaji who played the crucial role. We reproduce the article here. Text: Nowadays it is said by many MK Gandhi critics that Clement Atlee made a statement in which he said Gandhi has ‘minimal’ role in India's independence and gave credit to naval mutinies and with this statement, they concluded the whole freedom struggle.

BSF should take full responsibility for death of 4 kids in West Bengal: Rights defender

By Kirity Roy*  One is deeply disturbed and appalled by the callous trench-digging by BSF in Chetnagachh village under Daspara Gram Panchayat, Chopra, North Dinajpur District, West Bengal that has claimed the lives of four children. Along the entire stretch of Indo-Bangladesh border of West Bengal instead of guarding the actual border delineated by the international border pillars, BSF builds fences and digs trenches well inside the Indian territory, passing through villages and encroaching on private lands, often without due clearance or consent. 

A Hindu alternative to Valentine's Day? 'Shiv-Parvati was first love marriage in Universe'

By Rajiv Shah*   The other day, I was searching on Google a quote on Maha Shivratri which I wanted to send to someone, a confirmed Shiv Bhakt, quite close to me -- with an underlying message to act positively instead of being negative. On top of the search, I chanced upon an article in, imagine!, a Nashik Corporation site which offered me something very unusual. 

How GMOs would destroy non-GMO crops: Aruna Rodrigues' key submissions in SC

Counterview Desk The introduction of Bt and HT crops will harm the health of 1 billion Indians and their animals, believes Aruna Rodrigues, who has made some 60 submissions to the Supreme Court (SC) during the last 20 years. As lead petitioner who filed Public Interest Litigation in 2005, during a spate of intense hearings, which ended on 18 January 2024, she fought in the Apex Court to prevent the commercialization of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in Indian agriculture. 

Social justice day amidst 'official neglect' of salt pan workers in Little Rann of Kutch

By Prerana Pamkar*  In India’s struggle for Independence, the Salt Satyagraha stands as a landmark movement and a powerful symbol of nonviolent resistance. Led by Mahatma Gandhi, countless determined citizens walked from Sabarmati Ashram to Dandi in Gujarat. However, the Gujarat which witnessed the power of the common Indian during the freedom struggle is now in the throes of another significant movement: this time it is seeking to free salt pan workers from untenable working conditions in the Little Rann of Kutch (LRK).

Corporatizing Indian agriculture 'to enhance' farmer efficiency, market competitiveness

By Shashank Shukla*  Today, amidst the ongoing farmers' protest, one of the key demands raised is for India to withdraw from the World Trade Organization (WTO). Let us delve into the feasibility of such a move and explore its historical context within India's globalization trajectory.

Jallianwala massacre: Why Indian govt hasn't ever officially sought apology from UK

By Manjari Chatterjee Miller*  The king of the Netherlands, Willem-Alexander, apologized in July 2023 for his ancestors’ role in the colonial slave trade. He is not alone in expressing remorse for past wrongs. In 2021, France returned 26 works of art seized by French colonial soldiers in Africa – the largest restitution France has ever made to a former colony. In the same year, Germany officially apologized for its 1904-08 genocide of the Herero and Nama people of Namibia and agreed to fund reconstruction and development projects in Namibia. .

Livelihood issues return to national agenda ahead of LS polls: SKM on Bharat Bandh

Counterview Desk  Top farmers' network, the Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM) has claimed big success of Grameen Bharat Bandh and industrial /sectoral strikes, stating, the “struggle reflected anger of farmers, workers and rural people across India”, adding, the move on February 16 succeeded in bringing back peoples’ livelihood issues in the national agenda just ahead of the general election to the Lok Sabha.

How retraints were imposed on academic freedom on the IIM-Ahmedabad campus

By Sandeep Pandey*  This is the seventh consecutive academic year when I would have gone as a visiting faculty member to the Indian Institute of Management at Ahmedabad to teach an Elective course on Transformational Social Movements to the second year of Post Graduate Programme students. But the invitation has not come so far and it looks like it is the end of my teaching stint at IIM, at least, so long as the Bhartiya Janata Party remains in power at the centre.

A 'distorted narrative' of Indian politics: Congress failing to look beyond LS polls

By Prem Singh*  About 15 days ago, I told a senior journalist friend that there are not even two   months left for the Lok Sabha elections, Rahul Gandhi is roaming around on a delectation (tafreeh). The friend probably found my comment exasperating and replied that he is not on a delectation trip. The conversation between us on this topic ended there.