After the Union government’s response of ‘no data available’ to several questions in Parliament, the way in which the country’s official statistics and data is being managed has come into question. While it has become fodder for many memes, the dearth of data, either due to inefficiency or by design, has been highlighted by Opposition leaders and the civil society as a huge impediment to fruitful policy making.
While running the risk of stating the obvious, it needs to be pointed out that, at a time when most businesses rely heavily on data analytics, the government’s inadequacy in this department could be catastrophic to India's growth story. Government data is a pivotal resource that ensures healthy democracy, citizen participation and most importantly, accountability and reform.
We have compiled a list of issues on which, in the recent past, the government’s answer has been ‘no data available’.
1. Number of health workers infected with COVID-19: In September 2020, MoS for Health, Ashwini Choubey, in a written reply, said that data on the number of frontline healthcare workers infected with COVID-19 since the virus spread in India. The response said that the Union government does not maintain the registry for the same.
2. Number of women who exited the anganwadi workforce after the coronavirus: In September 2020, Smriti Irani, Union Minister for Women and Child Development, told the Parliament that the Ministry does not maintain data on the number of women who exited the anganwadi workforce after the coronavirus lockdown.
3. Number of girls who dropped out of schools since lockdown: In September 2020, Smriti Irani also said the Ministry of Women and Child Development does not have accurate data on the number of girls who dropped out of schools since lockdown was imposed across the country in March, 2020. This was in response to a query by senior Congress leader, Mallikarjun Kharge.
4. Number of sanitation workers who died during lockdown: In September 2020, MoS Ramdas Athawale told MP Bhagwat Karad that the ‘Hospitals and dispensaries being a state subject’, the Union Government has no data on the number of sanitation workers who died during the pandemic due to ‘health and safety hazards related [to] cleaning hospitals and medical waste’.
5. Central database of Plasma banks: In September 2020, MoS for Health Ashwini Choubey informed the Rajya Sabha that since “States have taken (the) initiative to establish such(Plasma) banks to provide plasma therapy to coronavirus positive patients, no central database of such(Plasma) banks is maintained’
6. Migrant workers' deaths: In September 2020, the Ministry of Labour and Employment told the Parliament that no data is available on the number of migrant workers who died since the lockdown was imposed due to COVID-19.
7. Migrant workers stranded data: In April, 2020, the Chief Labour Commissioner (CLC) which functions under the Union Ministry of Labour and Employment, in response to an RTI query said that they have no data on state or district-wise break-up of migrant workers stranded due to the lockdown that was imposed.
8. Job losses of migrant workers: In September 2020, Union Minister Santosh Kumar Gangwar told the Lok Sabha that the Centre had no record of the number of job losses that migrant workers had to face during the lockdown. This was a written reply.
9. Closure of MSMEs data: In September 2020, MoS for MSMEs Pratap Chandra Sarangi on being asked about the number of small and medium businesses that ran out of business and closed from March to August 2020 said that the Centre had no data on the same.
10. Number of workers in the unorganized sector: When asked about the workforce in the unorganised sector, the government informed the Parliament that they have maintained records of the number of workers, contractors and others who work in the unorganised sector.
11. Number of RTI activists murdered: While answering a query by K Shamugasundaram of the DMK on the number of RTI activists murdered in India, the Union Home Ministry said that they have no data available on the same.
12. Number of police personnel who died of COVID-19: In September 2020, the Union Home Ministry informed the Lok Sabha that the Centre had no data maintained on the number of frontline workers, police personnel who died due to COVID-19.
13. Police excesses during lockdown data: In September 2020, Mos Home Affairs G Kishen Reddy told the Rajya Sabha that the Centre has no data on the number of police excesses cases which have been registered have led to either harassment/ or injury or death of citizens since lockdown was imposed.
14. Number of political prisoners in jails: In response to CPI MP Binoy Visvam’s query on the number of political prisoners who are still facing trial, the Union Home Ministry said they did not have any data maintained on this.
15. Data on India’s position in the world in corruption: While responding to a question by TMC’s Sunil Kumar Mondal, the Union government said it did not possess any information of India’s current position viz-a-viz corruption.
16. Students suicides during lockdown: To a question posed by DMK's Kanimozhi, the government replied on September 20, 2020 that it was ‘extremely sensitive’ towards providing education, but claimed that it did not have collated data of student suicides.
17. Number of immigrants applying for citizenship under CAA: In March 2020, in response to a RTI query by Chandigarh-based activist Dinesh Chaddha, it was said that the Centre has no data on immigrants who have applied for citizenship under the Citizenship Act (Amendment) Act (CAA) from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh.
18. Number of deaths due to lynching: In March 2018, the then MoS for Home Affairs Hansraj Ahir told the Rajya Sabha that Union government cannot provide numbers of deaths caused by lynching as it does not maintain specific data on lynching incidents in the country, adding that the NCRB does not maintain specific data of that nature. The 2017 NCRB report was delayed and released only in October 2019, but it had no data on lynchings and religious killings.
19. Farmer suicides because of farm debt data: In December 2018, In response to a question by TMC leader Dinesh Trivedi on the number of farmer suicides because of farm debt, the government said no data was available post 2016 as National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) under the Home Ministry had not compiled the same. When the NCRB finally published the data, it only gave total number of farmer suicides, but no classification as to what the reasons behind the suicides were.
20. Data on journalists killed: In July, 2018, the then MoS for Home Affairs Hansraj Gangaram Ahir had said in a written reply that GoI had no specific data on journalists killed as the “National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) collects data pertaining to murders, it does not collect data in respect of separate categories of professionals, including journalists."