Official Statistical Information: Indian Scenario

P R Goswami
Librarian, Faculty of Management Studies
University of Delhi, Delhi-110007


Describes in brief the serials and ad-hoc publications compiled by government statistical agencies in India. Discusses the guides and finding aids released by the agencies for better understanding of content and structure of statistical publications. Provides an outline of recent changes made in the policy for faster dissemination and easy access to official statistics. The present state of availability of data on electronic media and Internet has also been discussed.


In recent years, there has been a widespread use of statistical data in social science research. Researchers are now required to attain `statistical literacy' for the conduct of their work. Statistical literacy may be defined as the ability to understand and evaluate statistical results that are relevant to one's work coupled with the knowledge about the content and structure of statistical sources which can be used for research and decision making processes.

Sources of Statistical Data

Macrolevel statistics on Indian society and economy which are available at national, state and district levels on different variables, mostly have their origin in government run statistical agencies. Data are now collected on a great variety of subjects such as population, national income, industry, agriculture, education, price, trade, environment, finance and banking, etc.

There are three major processes through which data are collected. These are:

  1. Collection of data on regular basis by official agencies through censuses and surveys (e.g. Population Census, Sample Survey, etc.).

  2. Collection of data by regulatory agencies for administrative uses through statistical returns (e.g. Review of Industrial Disputes in India).

  3. Routine accumulation of data as by-product of administrative activities (e.g. Statistics of Customs and Excise Collection).

Statistical Agencies

The responsibility of collection, processing and tabulation of statistical data, and their dissemination lies with statistical agencies. Following are the major agencies at national level.

  1. Central Statistical Organisation (Department of Statistics, Ministry of Planning and Programme Implementation), New Delhi.

  2. National Sample Survey Organisation (Department of Statistics, Ministry of Planning and Programme Implementation), New Delhi.

  3. Registrar General of India (Ministry of Home Affairs), New Delhi.

  4. Directorate General of Commercial Intelligence and Statistics. (Ministry of Commerce), Calcutta.

  5. Directorate of Economics and Statistics (Department of Agriculture and Cooperation, Ministry of Agriculture), New Delhi.

  6. Labour Bureau (Ministry of Labour), Shimla and Chandigarh.

  7. Department of Economic Analysis and Policy, Reserve Bank of India, Mumbai.

  8. Office of the Economic Advisor, Department of Industrial Development, New Delhi.

  9. Directorate General of Employment and Training, (Ministry of Labour), New Delhi.

Apart from these, each Government of India ministry has either a full-fledged statistical division or section. Public sector organisations have their own arrangements for collection and maintenance of statistics. In states, and union territories (UT), there are State Statistical Bureaus. On the whole, statistical system in India is a decentralised one; the responsibility of collection and dissemination of statistics is divided between the union and state governments. The statistical offices in the central ministries and state departments are independent in the sense that their programmes and budgets are determined by their own ministries/departments. At the same time, they do depend at least partially on statistics collected by other bodies. All India statistical operations such as Census of India, Annual Survey of Industries (ASI), National Sample Survey are centralised activities which cater to the needs of all departments.

Statistical Publications

A large number of statistical publications are released by these agencies all over the country in a dispersed manner, in the form of priced serials and ad hoc publications. Some are released only for `official use' or `restricted circulation'. The most important publication from states' statistical offices is Statistical Abstract of different states and union territories. A representative list of important statistical publications published by agencies at the centre is given in Table - 1.

Table 1: Mainstream Statistical Publications

Subject/Variables Title of Serials/Reports
a. National Income

a.1 National Accounts Statistics, 1998

a.2 National Accounts Statistics Disaggregated Statement 1950-51 to 1979-80.

a.3 National Accounts Statistics Factor Income (New Series) 1980-81 to 1990

a.4 New Series on National Accounts Statistics (Base Year 1993-94)

a.5 Input-Output Transactions Tables 1989-90

a.6 Quick Estimates and Advance Estimates of National Income - A Press Release

a.7 Quarterly Estimates of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) : A Press Release

Note: These publications are compiled by National Accounts Division, Central Statistical Organisation, Department of Statistics, Ministry of Planning and Programme Implementation, New Delhi.

b. Industry

b.1 Annual Survey of Industries: Provisional Results for Factory Sector 1995-96

b.2 Annual Survey of Industries: Detailed Results for Factory Sector 1995-96 (2v.)

b.3 Handbook of Industrial Policy and Statistics 1998

Note: The first two publications i.e. b.1 and b.2 are compiled by Industrial Statistics Division of Central Statistical Organisation, and b.3 is by Ministry of Industry, Government of India, New Delhi.
c. Population (Census of India, 1991)

c.1 1991 Census Handbook (Data on Administrative Units and Key Population Statistics India States and Districts)

c.2 States Profile 1991 India (63 tables, 21 charts and 12 maps on selected indicators for India and States)

c.3 Primary Census Abstract : General Population, 2v. (Registration of Birth and Death and Sample Registration System)

c.4 Vital Statistics of India 1990 (Based on Civil Registration System)

c.5 Sample Registration Systems. Statistical Report 1996

Note: These publications are compiled by Office of the Registrar General and Census Commissioner, Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India.
d. Trade

d.1 Foreign Trade Statistics of India (Principal Commodities and Countries) May 1999 (Monthly)

d.2 Monthly Statistics of Foreign Trade of India. V1. Exports and Re-exports. Part 1 & 2 June 1998 (Monthly)

d.3 Statistics of the Foreign Trade of India by Countries. 2v. (V1 : Export and Re-export; V2.: Imports). 1997-98. March 1998

d.4 Statistics of the Inland Coasting Trade Consignments of India 1996-97

Note: These publications are compiled by Directorate General of Commercial Intelligence and Statistics, Ministry of Commerce, Government of India, Calcutta.
e. Agriculture

e.1 Indian Agriculture in Brief. 26th ed. 1995

e.2 Agricultural Statistics at a Glance. March 1998

e.3 Farm Harvest Prices of Principal Crops in India 1993-94 to 1995-96.

e.4 Area and Production of Principal Crops in India.

Note: These publications are compiled by Directorate of Economics and Statistics, Ministry of Agriculture, Govt. of India.
f. Labour

f.1 Indian Labour Yearbook 1996

f.2 Indian Labour Statistics, 1996

f.3 Employment Review 1994-95

f.4 Employment Exchange Statistics 1996

Note: First two publications i.e. f.1 and f.2 are compiled by Labour Bureau, Ministry of Labour, Govt. of India, Shimla and Chandigarh; whereas f.3 and f.4 are by Directorate General of Employment and Training, Ministry of Labour, Govt. of India.
g. Education

g.1 Selected Educational Statistics (As on 30th September 1997) 1997-98.

g.2 Selected Information on School Education in India 1995-96.

g.3 Distance Education in India 1996-97.

Note: These publications are compiled by Statistics Division, Department of Education, Ministry of Human Resource Development , Govt. of India.
h. Banking and Finance

h.1 Report on Currency and Finance, 1997-98

h.2 Statistical Tables Relating to Banks in India 1997-98

h.3 Banking Statistics : Basic Statistical Returns. V.26. March 1997.

Note: These publications are compiled by Reserve Bank of India, Mumbai.

Central Statistical Organisation (CSO) is the apex body which coordinates statistical activities of central, state and international agencies. It ensures adoption of statistical standards on a uniform basis, minimises duplication of efforts and promotes upgradation of quality and timely release of data.

CSO compiles a number of useful data compendia. Recently published volumes include Statistical Abstract, 1998 (annual), Monthly Abstract of Statistics, May 1999, Women and Men of India 1998 (annual), Compendium of Environment Statistics 1998 (annual), Statistical Pocketbook of India 1997 (annual). The first publication, i.e. Statistical Abstract, 1998 contains time series data for national aggregates generally from 1990-91 and onwards upto the latest available. It is an exhaustive volume which contains data on various development indicators. The data relating to socio-economic, financial and industrial sector of the economy can be found in it. For the benefit of readers, explanatory notes showing the description of tables, methodology of data collection and its coverage are also included. The data for this publication are collected from various ministries/departments and public undertakings.

The other important publication is Monthly Abstract of Statistics, released every month with a time lag of two to three months. It presents key statistical data pertaining to various facts of Indian economy. The journal has a standing of 52 years. The subject coverage is reviewed from time to time. It contains monthly data for the last three financial years and annual figures wherever relevant for the last 5-6 years.

National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) is another important body established by the government for the purpose of conducting annual rounds of multi-purpose socio-economic surveys. The programme of these surveys follows a cycle covering a period of ten years. As per policy, surveys on following three groups of subjects i.e: (i) demography, health and family planning; (ii) assets, debt and investment; and (iii) land and livestock holdings are repeated once in ten years. On the other hand, surveys on (iv) employment, unemployment and consumer expenditure, and (v) self employment in non-agricultural enterprises are repeated once in five years. As a result, these five groups of subjects cover seven years out of ten years period. The remaining three years are utilised for undertaking special surveys.

Apart from conducting its own surveys, NSSO also helps CSO and takes the responsibility of undertaking the field work of Annual Survey of Industries. It also conducts follow up surveys of the Economic Census; and collects prices in 59 urban centres and 603 rural villages for compilation of Consumer Price Indices for (I) Urban Non-Manual Employees (ii) Agricultural Labourers and (iii) Rural Labourers.

The data collected by NSSO on different socio-economic subjects are released through reports and its quarterly journals Sarvekshana. All recent reports of NSSO are available for sale both in hard copy (i.e. printed) and electronic form. The list of reports available for sale are often included in the form of advertisement in newspapers and reputed periodicals like Economic and Political Weekly. Moreover, NSSO has recently decided to make available the unit level data collected in various rounds of surveys at nominal prices. The data can also be obtained by universities and research institutes free of cost for research studies either by signing a memorandum of understanding or by getting the research proposals approved by NSSO. However, the users of unit level data are required to maintain the confidentiality and understand the concepts, definitions as well as design and coverage of the survey. This is needed for proper appreciation of limitation and nature of data contained in the schedule or survey results.

Users Guides and Catalogues of Publications

Statistical agencies have compiled `users guides' or `Key to Statistics' which provides an insight into the contents of statistical serials. The most prominent users' guide is Guide to Official Statistics, 1987, by CSO. It provides details about scope, coverage, methods used for collection of data and comparability of data on different subjects. A near exhaustive list of all serials has also been appended to this publication. A new edition of this publication is under preparation and it is likely to be released by the end of 1999. Another useful guide is Directory of Statistics, 1990, by CSO. It lists different statistical series on which data are available. The details such as source organisation, titles of publications, periodicity of data, level of presentation of data are included in it. Another annual publication Sample Survey of Current Interests in India by CSO contains information pertaining to sample surveys started during the previous year. Other reference tools include Directory of Social Statistics, and Statistical System in India, 1989. There is no regular catalogue for statistical publications. Controller of Publications, Government of India announced the release of publication through `List of New Arrivals' which appear in newspapers. Another source is Catalogue of Government of India's Civil Publications.

The agencies such as CSO, NSSO, Labour Bureau, DGCIS publicise their serials/reports through their own annual reports and publications. Monthly Abstract of Statistics, compiled by CSO contains an annotated list of priced CSO publications. As regards availability of NSSO data, the details are included in its quarterly journal Sarvekshana. Similarly, Registrar General's Newsletter published quarterly by the RGI contains a list of census volumes published during the period; and Labour Bureau publications are listed in Indian Labour Journal. RBI and DGCIS also publicise their reports in Reserve Bank of India Bulletin and Monthly Statistics of Foreign Trade of India which are published every month.

Methodological Handbooks

Main factors which influence the accessibility and proper use of data serials are details about (i) the methodology used for data collection, (ii) the data reliability and comparability, (iii) documentation of concepts and definitions used; and (iv) classification scheme employed for enumerating different data series (i.e. for different produces, occupations), etc. Most of the agencies usually incorporate the sources and reliability statement of their data in the introductory pages or as footnotes to tables in their publications. In most of the primary sources like Census of India - Primary Census Abstract, ASI reports, NSSO reports and Report on Currency and Finance, all details such as source, validity and reliability are included. On the other hand, secondary data compendia like Statistical Abstract, India; Economic Survey, Indian Economy in Figures, do not include details about methodological aspects of data contained in them. Only the names of sources, agencies and limitations of data are briefly mentioned, mostly as footnotes.

Methodological statements regarding data contained in different sources are also found in guidebooks or `Key to Literature' sort of publications. One prominent example is Guide to Official Statistics, 1987 which has been published mainly to `help the users of official data' to understand the `methodology used for collection of data and interpretation of the statistical series available in official publications'. Apart from this, there are certain specialised methodological handbooks which the users consult in order to acquaint themselves with the terms, concepts and classification used in the serials. National Accounts Statistics Sources and Methods, 1987 (CSO) is an important compilation in this category. It provides a detailed account of procedures followed in preparing the estimates of various macro-economic aggregates used in national accounts statistics and their inter-relationship. Labour Bureau's Labourer : Master Reference Books, 1989 (Ministry of Labour) , presents labour statistics in all its facets which could be used as reference manual for use of policy makers. It also includes explanatory notes on sources of data, and brief description of serials released by Ministry of Labour. Another publication Guide to Official Statistics of Trade, Shipping and Customs Revenue of India published way back in 1965 is still relevant as a reference manual.

Other publications which provide an inner view of classifications used to segregate or disaggregate different series of data are i) Revised National Industrial Classification of All Economic Activities, 1987 (CSO), ii) Indian Trade Classification 1996 (DGCIS), and iii) National Classification of Occupations 1968 (Ministry of Labour).

Unpublished Data

Time lag in the published data often makes it imperative on the part of users to explore the possibility of getting access to unpublished data. Such data falls under four broad categories: (i) data which are under publication, (ii) data which are tabulated but not included in publications programme, (iii) data which are available but not tabulated, and (iv) data available in household/establishment schedule or questionnaire collected through census or sample survey.

Two factors i.e., (i) statistical legislation regarding guarantee of confidentiality, and (ii) sensitiveness of data available with agencies are strictly followed for withholding data. However, Government of India has approved a National Policy on Dissemination of Statistical Data in its Cabinet meeting held on Wednesday, 9th September 1998. The policy endorses the view that easy accessibility of data will encourage the research studies and in-depth analysis of socio-economic millieu of Indian population. The policy measures include sharing of data not only in respect of the published data but also in respect of unpublished data collected by government agencies. This is apparently a new development.

The salient salient features of the new data dissemination policy which has come into force with immediate effect are as under:

  1. Validated data, though unpublished, including unit/household/establishment level data after deleting their identification particulars to maintain confidentiality should also be made available to data users.

  2. No data which are considered by the concerned official data source agency to be of sensitive nature and the supply of which may be prejudicial to the interest, integrity and security of nation would be supplied.

  3. Survey results/data should be made available to the users after the expiry of 3 years from the completion of field work or after the reports based on survey data are released whichever is earlier.

  4. Data users will give an understanding that the official statistics obtained by him for his own declared use will not be passed on to any other users.

  5. Data user will have to acknowledge the data sources in their research work based on official statistics.

The new policy has a wide ranging effect on statistical agencies. NSSO, CSO, RGI and others have started vigorous marketing efforts declaring the availability of unit level data to the users against payment. According to the new policy, a data warehouse will be created so that data seekers are not put to inconvenience.

Electronic Media and Internet

Most of the statistical agencies have started releasing data to users in electronic form. This has helped in reducing the time lag in published data. The agencies like CSO, NSSO, RGI, DGCIS, Labour Bureau, etc. have developed computerised databases for speedy dissemination. Industrial statistics wing of CSO has been made responsible for bringing out quick results, provisional results and final results within one, three and six months respectively of the receipt of last batch of ASI returns from the field. In fact, several steps have been taken to reduce the time lag. Table 2 shows that time lag in the release of ASI results has been reduced considerably.

Table 2

Annual Survey of Industries (ASI) Survey Period Electronic Media Printed Report
1993-94, Detailed Results in 15 volumes 1994-95 April 1997 October 1997
1994-95,Detailed Results in 16 volumes 1995-96 Januray 1998 August 1998
1995-96, Provisional Results 1996-97 July 1998 November 1998

It is expected that the final results of ASI 1996-97 and 1997-98 would be made available shortly and the existing time lag will be eventually removed.

Recent catalogues and brochures released by RGI, NSSO and others reveal that most of the priced reports are now available in electronic form. Census of India 1991 data on a number of variables are available on floppies and CDs. Similarly, quite a few mainstream CSO publications containing national accounts and ASI data are for sale in electronic media. A list of these publications is included in Monthly Abstract of Statistics. All recent NSSO reports based on data collected through surveys during 1990's (46th, 48th, 49th, 50th, 51st, 52nd, 53rd Round) are available on computer floppies. In fact, availability of reports based on NSSO surveys and also unit level data for sale at nominal price or no price for specific users is advertised in newspapers. Thus, a major portion of primary data collected and compiled by CSO, NSSO, RGI, and other agencies are now available for sale both in the form of magnetic media and hard copies at reasonable price.

Most of the government departments have their web sites on Internet created by National Informatics Centre (NIC). Department of Statistics has a website, i.e. The website contains information about the various publications issued by the department and the necessary guidelines for obtaining the publications. It also contains the latest macro-economic and socio-economic statistics released by the department. For instance, the provisional results (factory sector) in respect of important parameters of ASI 1995-96 at all India level are available on the website.

Another statistical agency, Registrar and Census Commissioner of India (RGI) has set up a website, i.e. It provides an wide array of information on socio-economic characteristics of Indian population. The basic data pertaining to Census of India 1991 are available under the head Census Data Online. All relevant information pertaining to census organisation, its publications, and their release are regularly included in the website. (See Appendix I). It also provides information on data items proposed to be collected for Census of India, 2001 A.D. Moreover, comments and suggestions for the improvement of the website can be addressed to via e-mail. The website is updated at least once in a month when release of new census publications are announced on the 7th day of the month.

Reserve Bank of India, Mumbai has a website which provides access to its mainstream monthly publication Reserve Bank of India Bulletin.

In addition, a part of Indian official statistics is available on Internet through GISTNIC services of NIC. The following are the details.

i) Indian Economy Monitor

It provides a detailed monthly review of Indian economy covering time series data of about 1000 variables. This data is available both at the state and national level covering all important sectors, i.e. agriculture, infrastructure, industries, health, education, employment, housing, public finance, etc. The source of information is Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE), Mumbai.

ii) The 1991 Population Census Database

It provides the primary census abstract of about 30 demographic variables which include total/rural/urban population with break up of male, female, SC/ST, literate persons below 7 years, workers in various sectors, as agriculture, mining, household, industry, etc. This information is available for a village/block, tehsil, district, state or at national level. The source of information is Registrar General and Census Commissioner of India (RGI).

iii) The 1991 Village Amenities

It provides data on all the village level amenities such as the educational and medical facilities, drinking water, power supply, transport and approach, land use pattern with details of area under irrigation by different sources as canal, well, river, etc.

All these databases are updated regularly and enhanced on a monthly/yearly/decadal basis depending on frequency of data collection and their availability.

8. Concluding Remarks

In India, the statistical system which functions under the aegis of government produces data on a great variety of subjects and a number of agencies are involved in it. A large number of serials, reports and ad hoc publications are released by these agencies. However, available statistical material, produced at enormous cost out of public fund, normally remain underutilized due to indifferent attitude of statistical agencies and time lag in publication of data. However, advances in information technology and recent policy relating to dissemination of statistical data are likely to increase the use of official data. The availability of unit level unpublished data will attract new groups of users.

Major agencies like CSO, NSSO, RGI etc. should bring out popular publications at regular intervals to apprise the data users about the structure of Indian statistical system as well as current data availability and current controversies relating to quality of statistics.


  1. How Good are India's Industrial Statistics? CSO'S Comments. Economic and Political Weekly. 34;23.1999. p 1462.

  2. India, Central Statistical Organization. Guide to Official Statistics. 3rd Ed. Delhi, Controller of Publications, 1987.

  3. India, Central Statistical Organization. Statistical System in India 1997. New Delhi. 1998.

  4. India, Department of Statistics. Annual Report 1998-99. New Delhi. 1999.

  5. India, Department of Statistics. Indian Statistical System; Golden Jubilee of Indian Independence. New Delhi. 1998.

Appendix - I

Website of Registrar General and Census Commissioner of India (RGI)

Opening Page
Census of India
Comments and Suggestions may be addressed to

  1. About Census of India

  2. Census Publications

  3. New Books Release

  4. India and State Maps

  5. State Publications

  6. District Census Handbooks

  7. Special Studies

  8. India at a Glance

  9. Census and Online : 29 Tables

  10. Vital Statistics

  11. State Census Directorates

  12. E mail Suggestions

Information Today & Tomorrow, Vol. 19, No. 1, March 2000, p.11-p.16 & p.21