The study makes the case that biased data will have a bigger impact on actual decision-making if ecological, social, and governance (ESG) norms are utilised to direct trade and investment decisions more regularly.
According to a working study co-authored by EAC-PM member Sanjeev Sanyal, India's subpar performance on many global development metrics—despite its rising per capita income—is caused by systemic distortions in international organisations' estimates of these measures for India.
The study makes the argument that as environment, social, and governance (ESG) norms are more frequently used to guide trade and investment decisions, skewed data will have a greater impact on actual decision-making. "Our examination of the above three development indicators (Childhood Stunting, Female Labour Force Participation Rate and Life Expectancy) has demonstrated that there are systematic biases in estimates of socio-development indicators for India by international organisations.
"These are just an illustration of a more widespread problem of consistent downward estimation of various indicators despite growing per capita income," the paper, co-authored by Sanyal, who is a member of the Economic Advisory Council to the Prime Minister of India (EAC-PM), said. Reverse the Gaze Re-examining Foreign Organizations' Assessments of India's Development Indicators stated that, on the one hand, international agencies' faulty estimation is a result of their own conceptual uncertainty, questionable benchmarks, and poor methodology.
"On the other hand, poor survey design, inappropriate choice of benchmarks, and delayed data publication by domestic statistical agencies have not just failed to capture the ground reality of India’s development but have also provided space or justification for the estimates of international agencies," it noted.
In accordance with the report, academics and activists alike should scrutinise international agencies' standards and projections more frequently, particularly when they involve cross-national comparisons like the UNDP's Gender Inequality Index. "At the international level, India must demand greater transparency and accountability from global agencies on these development indicators, particularly by virtue of being a member of agencies like ILO and WHO among others," the paper said.
The study argued that as India is a member of many of these organisations, it has the right to demand accurate, impartial estimates. It also argued that the Indian government must demand more accountability and openness from international organisations. Recent years have seen a lot of discussion surrounding India's poor performance on some development measures.
Elaborating further, the paper said, "For instance, we saw how blanket application of an inappropriate global standard for childhood growth resulted in a significant overestimation of malnutrition in India." In contrast, the report made note of how India's female labour force participation rate was understated because the International Labour Organization (ILO) requirements for women's economic contribution were not followed.
"Both cases are a reflection of the same problem – inadequate application of mind on the appropriateness of global benchmarks and definitions," it noted. According to the study, it would be impossible for the UN Population Division to publish its inaccurate estimates without providing a thorough rationale if the Registrar General of India, for example, published its Life Expectancy at Birth estimate on an annual basis.