This volume is the outcome of a seminar held in 1976 at the Institute of Social and Eco¬nomic Change in Bangalore on the ‘Data Base of the Indian Economy’, and is fourth in the series under the joint auspices of the Indian Association for the Study of Population and the Indian Economic Society. The major themes of tie series seem to be examination of the available statistic-relating to some important of the Indian economy, the deficiencies therein and suggestions for improvement of data. One purpose of the series is that such an exercise will promote ‘more effective planning and policy making’. The present volume addresses it¬self to two important sectors, I health and education.
The modern techniques of planning and policy-making involve complex exercises to assess the supply side and demand side through various models—from simple projec-tive techniques to simulating modelling to systems dyna¬mics.
This has generated more demand for an accurate, reli¬able and adequate quantita-tive data base, both at the micro level and at the macro level. In India, the unit of planning is claimed to have been recently decentralized to the district level. There is now a greater need for statistics at the district level.
Statisticians and the users of statistical data are always a starving tribe anywhere in the world, be they in the most quantitatively oriented socie¬ties like the USA, where pri¬vate corporations are running multi-million dollar businesses in information-gathering, or in the least quantitatively oriented society like any deve¬loping country where they are just beginning to develop a taste for the game of numbers. But everywhere they share at least three predominant fea¬tures: firstly, there is an un-satiated demand for statistical data, quantitative in form: secondly, reliability of avail-able data is viewed with sus¬picion,—other than by the one who has collected them; and thirdly, they are never sure if their statistically gene¬rated complex quiz can solve human problems. However, they believe that an attempt to solve human problems can only be made if one knows how human groups are com¬posed and how they vary from one another across space and over a period of time; what difference modern inputs make in shaping people’s attitudes and practices in specific spheres of their lives; and what possible interventions can be introduced towards the realization of preferred goals. The present volume contri¬butes to this belief in looking for a way to comprehend the magnitude of the problems associated with health and education in India.
The objective with which the present seminar in the series has been held is laudable in¬deed. All the papers fit well into the chosen theme and purpose of the seminar. They discuss various sources of data in health and education ex¬amine the data contained therein in detail and point out gaps in the existing data from their perspective of planning and policy making.
In any one of the 16 papers presented in the section on health and 12 in the section on educational statistics, one would have liked to see a dis¬cussion of the utility of the existing social statistics in these two important sectors of our planning endeavours in the Five Year Plan docu¬ments and in policy formula¬tions. Particularly, one would have liked to know what kind of the statistics available have been used and to what extent by our planners’ and policy makers in’ their approach to ‘effective planning and policy making’ and also, what kind of data have been deman¬ded for planning and policy formulation. Such a discus¬sion would have revealed whether planning efforts’ or policy interventions were effec¬tive, ineffective or partially effective because of the weak: data base of for other reasons. It would have also revealed what kind of demands for new data have been made by planners during the last thirty years. Unless these gaps in our knowledge are pointed out from this angle, any suggestion for improve¬ment of data base for effective planning and policy making is not going to make any diffe¬rence.
It is true that for academic debates, writing seminar papers, simulating elegant models (in the name of plan¬ning) and similar exercises there are serious variations and limitations in existing data, as pointed out by almost all contributors. But I doubt that there are too many gaps in our information for effec¬tive planning, because a plan¬ning approach rests on ideo¬logical foundations. Select data are needed to strengthen these foundations, and it is apparent that the government agencies have been fulfilling their duties towards this end.
The papers contributed in this volume are from eminent doc¬tors, public health experts, educational administrators, statisticians, demographers and other social scientists, which speaks of a fairly repre¬sentative participation from experts in the field of health and education.
The first part of the volume covers areas related to health statistics. These are morbi¬dity, mortality— including foetal, infant and child mor¬tality—causes of death, vital statistics, public health, medi¬cal care system, nutrition, environmental statistics, com¬municable diseases, mental health, health and manpower, leprosy and malaria. Detailed discussions in the papers are also related to various agencies engaged in the collection, compilation and publishing of health statistics. In the second part of this volume, the papers deal with a historical survey of educational statistics in India, available sources of educational statistics, element¬ary education, vocational edu¬cation, manpower, education and medicine and appraisal of educational statistics. For re¬asons of space, it is not pos¬sible to discuss all the papers individually, but I would like to highlight the general tone and emphasis evident in the papers of this volume.
These papers provide a great deal of useful information on the various existing sources of health and educational statis¬tics in India, at the national and the state levels. The fol¬lowing points are commonly emphasized in many of the papers:
1. In the field of health stat¬istics, data are not as rich as in the area of education. But a wide variation exists in the collection of data from state to state, and from one source to another for three predominent reasons: (a) Lack of standard definition of various items on which information is collected. For instance, in the area of health, morbidity stat¬istics suffer from wide varia¬tion in the list of notifiable diseases from state to state and from rural to urban areas—problems associated with diagnostic criteria in deter¬mining the disease or cause of death. In the area of education, wide variation exists in the re¬ference date of data collection, e.g., the census data and the Ministry of Education data (A.R. Kamat, P.R. Gopinathan Nair), and also because of the changing definition of the con¬cept in the same source over a period of time (M.K. Premi). (b) At the base level the health reporting system is very weak for registration of statistics. At the village level, it is often an illiterate or ill-paid func¬tionary with diverse responsi¬bilities who is charged with reporting of events (Shanti Ghosh). From this level the information passes through four or five levels till it is finally compiled Although this process is intended to in crease the accuracy of the data, in fact it increases the chance of errors in data col¬lection and compilation pro¬portionately to the number of levels from the bottom to the top. This also applies to educational statistics, (c) Data collection also suffers because of the casual attitude and low motivation of functionaries in various institutions because of their perceptive value towards a ‘form-filling job’ and the use of figures. This is parti¬cularly true of hospital-based data and school-level data.
2. Variations in geographical area coverage of health data, in population coverage within the same geographical area and coverage of hospital-based statistics are repeatedly point¬ed out (P.G.K. Panikar, K. Visheswara Rao & S.G. Srikanti, P. Singh, Ashok Mitra, R.B. Lai, S.K. Noordeen). Such variations have been pointed out in educa-tional data in the historical context (Durgaprasad Bhattacharya & Rama Deb Roy ‘Malakar’). In the contem¬porary situation, the Ministry of Education data, as publish¬ed in ‘Education in India’ pertains only to recognized institutions and excludes infor¬mation regarding unrecognized institutions which are multi¬plying (Trilok N. Dhar).
3. Concern has been ex¬pressed in a number of papers about classification, tabulation and presentation of data for bringing about uniformity for comparative purposes. Non-standardization of definition and diagnostic criteria and even improper hospital records have lead to large discrepan¬cies in classification and tabulation of health statistics (F.E. Marker, P. Singh, R.L. Kapur). A number of pro¬blems associated with the existing class categories of data have been discussed (Shari Ghosh, A.R. Kamat, S.N. Gandam, P.R. Gopinathan Nair, Trilok N. Dhar, M.K. Premi). Although a lot of background information is available in many surveys and institutional records, such data either have not been published or are not properly utilized for cross-classification, which could be useful for practical purposes.
4. Serious concern has been expressed about the wide gap between the reference date data and its availability in print form. All papers in educa¬tional statistics are addressed to this problem. Particularly, P.R. Gopinathan Nair’s paper quotes views of various expert committees and plan docu¬ments on this deficiency. Even in the field of health statistics similar gaps exist, but of a lesser magnitude.
5. Problems of coordination between various data collec¬tion agencies have also been discussed in both the sections. Lack of coordination amongst various agencies engaged in collecting the data leads either to missing valuable informa¬tion or to duplication. Thus, differences in the same set of information published by various sources create more confusion than clarity for practical usage.
New items of data collection, standardization of definitions, improvement in classification and tabulation have often been suggested from the planning perspective. In the area of education it has also been pointed out that much of the existing data collected in a number of forms are neither published nor could be used for planning purposes. But no one has suggested with¬drawing such items of infor¬mation from the forms used presently. This applies equally to health data. In a way there is a persistent demand for additional data followed by suggestions to broaden the existing vast statistical infrastructural base.
Amidst the scholarly discus¬sions on appraisal of various areas of health and educational statistics loaded with in¬numerable suggestions to improve the data base in these two important sectors of our economy, one does find bril¬liance in Asok Mitra’s paper. He effectively combines various sources of infor¬mation to trace meaningful, coherent and informative trends in morbidity and cause of death statistics. His skill and sharpness in combining various sources of information proves that there is no dearth of necessary data in the field of health and education for ‘effective planning and policy making’, if there is a will and commitment on the part of our planners and political leaders. Additional data are always welcomed provided there is effective demand for its utilization. When the cost of collecting information is met from public funds, its utility must also benefit the masses.
Keshav Kaistha is Lecturer, Department of Political Science, Panjab University, Chandigarh.