Justice Markandey Katju: Lies, damned lies and statistics in India

Justice Markandey Katju

By Justice Markandey Katju–

(Justice Markandey Katju is a former Judge, Supreme Court of India, and former Chairman, Press Council of India. The views expressed are his own)

An article titled ‘More than 135 million Indians escaped from poverty between 2015-2019’ in several Indian and foreign news media outlets, including indica.

There are two problems accepting this assertion:
(1) The source is Niti Aayog, a Govt of India body, which would naturally like to paint a rosy picture of the country; and
(2) Statistics in India are highly questionable, as it is very difficult to verify them.

There is a Mark Twain aphorism that describes this best: “Lies, damned lies, and statistics.” This squarely applies to India, as it is a pretty disorganised country. Moreover, it is so vast — with 1.4 billion people — that it is difficult to get accurate figures, even by a neutral unbiased body, what to say of a Government of India agency.

How many people are poor, how many unemployed, how many lack proper healthcare and good education, etc are impossible to verify accurately, or even to conjecture.

What is the definition of poverty? Since prices of essential commodities have steeply escalated in India in recent years, and incomes have not correspondingly increased (assuming they have increased at all), it is obvious that poverty has increased (since incomes are relative to the price index).

Global Hunger Index, which is a reputed international agency reporting on world hunger, reported that half of Indian children are malnourished, wasted and/or stunted. India has slipped from 101 to 107 in the Hunger Index rankings in just one year (2021-2022) among the 121 countries surveyed. Over 55% of Indian women are anaemic.

Tens of millions of our young men and women are without jobs? If 100 class 4 (peon or unskilled manual labour) government jobs are advertised, there are often several hundred thousand applicants, many of them with master’s degrees or even a doctoral one. Several engineers apply too.

Proper healthcare and good education is almost non-existent for the masses. Private hospitals and clinics are too expensive for the masses, and the condition of the govt ones is terrible (to say the least).

Even the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), New Delhi, a premier Indian medical institute, looks like a railway station, with thousands of sick people waiting outside endlessly, and usually with perfunctory care, if any. The condition of most schools in India is terrible.

It is sometimes claimed that GDP in India is growing, but no one asks who is getting the fruits of that growth, the Indian masses, or just a handful of big businessmen and international corporates. The gap between the rich and the poor has widened in India, with a handful of big
businessmen becoming richer (often by illegal means) while the poor get poorer (because of escalating prices of food, etc).

Oxfam India’s report directly contradicts the report of Niti Aayog. Other sources also contradict Niti Aayog’s claim. You can read those reports here, here, here, here, and here

Who should we believe? The mind boggles.

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