Jun 29, 2022

National Sample Survey: How India taught the world the art of collecting data

Soon after India became independent from British rule, the country took inspiration from the Soviet Union to organise its economy - through centralised five-year plans. The National Sample Survey has consistently yielded fine-grained detail about economic life in India, helping assess poverty, employment, consumption and expenditure, to mention just a few indicators. As Nobel Prize-winning economist Angus Deaton and co-author Valerie Kozel wrote in 2005: "Where Mahalanobis and India led, the rest of the world has followed, so that today, most countries have a recent household income or expenditure survey." "Most countries," they continued, "Can only envy India in its statistical capacity". What began as a chance encounter with a journal of statistics aboard a ship - when Mahalanobis was returning from Cambridge to Calcutta during World War One - resulted in the transformation of India's data infrastructure in the decade after the country's independence. As the world surges into the era of "Big data", India risks being left behind.

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