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A new law empowering the government to collect all sorts of statistics is close at hand. The proposed Collection of Statistics Bill, 2007, which is up for Cabinet approval, will enable any government department or organisation at the central, state or local body level to collect data from commercial establishments, individuals and households.

The new Act seeks to replace a 1959 Act of the same name that had limited itself to the collection of statistics from industrial and commercial concerns. As in the 1959 Act, there will be penalties for not furnishing information. But since the penalties under the older Act were ‘very meagre’, the fines will be ‘enhanced’ under the proposed new law.

The Bill, according to the Cabinet note of the ministry of statistics and programme implementation, has also drawn on the Rangarajan commission’s recommendations asking the government to ensure the informant’s right to privacy by making it illegal to publish his/her identity or by requiring him/her to furnish sensitive information.

The 2007 Bill, according to the note, also has a clause in its enabling provisions for notifying certain subjects of national importance as ‘core statistics’. The Bill proposes to empower the Centre to make rules for maintaining technical standards in data collection for ‘core statistics’. The scope of the definition of ‘appropriate government’ agency collecting the data has been expanded by inclusion of local governments. The information collected under the new Act can only be used for statistical purposes, unlike under the older Act wherein the data could be used for prosecution under the Act or under the India Penal Code. The new Act will also have rules for avoiding duplication of surveys and for the use of all methods of data collection, including oral interviews and filing of returns electronically.

With the central and state governments collecting information via several survey programmes from households, companies, enterprises as well as private and public institutions on a voluntary basis, as the Cabinet note admits, what was the need for the new Act? “The proposal will facilitate better management of statistical data collection for more effective planning and policy formulation,” the note says. The ministry feels that in the wake of ‘liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation’, which has resulted in delicensing and deregulation, the system of obtaining information as a by-product of administering various laws is losing ground. “The need for statistical information for planning and policy formulation has also expanded over the years due to market-driven economy in most sectors with the increasing role of the private sector in areas which were the monopoly of the public sector,” it says.

So, does all this mean the government can actually collect any information from the citizens? That would be very nearly correct, that is, within the parameters of what is prescribed in the Constitution under the subject ‘Statistics’ and covered under the Union, state and concurrent lists. However, with the law in place, it would be legally binding on respondents to give out information.

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