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Monday, February 27, 2012

Postmen to now collect data for calculation of rural Consumer Price Index (CPI)

NEW DELHI: The postman in rural areas across the country has his hands full. Apart from his regular job, he now has to go out three to four times a week to collect data from retail outlets which is then used to calculate the rural consumer price inflation.
Faced with an acute manpower shortage, the ministry of statistics and programme implementation tied up with the department of posts to get over the problem of collecting such massive amount of data from rural areas across the country.
"When we were discussing about the comprehensive CPI data we were looking for a department which had reach across the country. We zeroed in on the postal network," said Pronob Sen, adviser in the Planning Commission and former chief statistician of the country.
It was a perfect opportunity for the postal department, which readily accepted the offer. Rising competition and new technology has posed serious challenges for the department of posts. It is working on several ideas to maximize revenues and use its vast network to help other government departments.
"We were looking at new avenues for raising our revenue and we entered into a memorandum of agreement with the ministry of statistics and progamme implementation," said Sachin Pilot, minister of state for communications and information technology.
He said the rural CPI data is being collected by 1,181 rural post offices. About 1,800 employees undertake the exercise for 3 to 4 hours a week. The statistics ministry paid the department of posts Rs 6.32 crore in 2010-11 and is to pay Rs 7.66 crore in 2011-12. "We just collect the data, the CPI is calculated by the statistics ministry on department of posts and National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) inputs," Pilot said.
Price data is collected from selected towns by the Field Operations Division of NSSO and from selected villages by the department of posts. This data is then fed into web portals being maintained by the National Informatics Centre.
Postal employees identified for the mission were put through intensive training sessions. "They were taught how to collect the data, the questions to be asked and how to put the data in the portal," Sen said, adding most employees had education up to Class 8.
"There were initial hiccups for about 3-4 months but then it settled down. They collect data and then feed it into the computers available in the post office. The data is carefully examined before it is used," said Sen, adding that the department of posts compensates the employees for collecting data.
Data collection in the country faces several hurdles and often international agencies and analysts question the quality of Indian data. Government officials say lack of competitive salaries forces students with economics and statistics background to explore opportunities in the private sector. They say even now the NSSO has vacancies for nearly 800 analysts and statisticians.
The Central Statistics Office on Monday unveiled the first comprehensive annual inflation rates based on the consumer price indices series. Provisional annual inflation rate based on all India general CPI (combined) for January stood at 7.65% while the inflation rates for rural and urban areas were 7.38% and 8.25% respectively, the CSO data showed.
Source : The Economic Times, Feb 27, 2012

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