The need to invest in evidence-based research and numbers

Leaning on obsolete and frequently revised government data is immature

There is a need to invest more seriously in granular research rather than relying on the Indian government’s mostly unreliable data.

As the printing industry is well aware, our sister organization IppStar (IPP Services, Training, and Research Pvt Ltd),, has been researching the Indian publishing, print, and packaging verticals since 1999. Recently, IppStar made a presentation at the BMPA VisCon conference in Jaipur to contribute to a discussion of ‘scaling up’ growth.

Although our research and comments were based on detailed and integrated research of the publishing, printing, and packaging industries, there is a need to invest more seriously in granular research rather than relying on the Indian government’s mostly unreliable data. Forecasts by intermediaries are bad enough, but relying on government numbers could be fatal for investments in both organic and inorganic growth.

Highlighting this concern is the 14 July 2023 article by Vrishti Beniwal in Bloomberg Quint, subsequently reproduced in the Business Line daily, that points to the crisis in the quality of economic data that the country faces. Titled ‘Spotty Economic Data In India Jeopardizes A Fast-Growing Market’ and subtitled, ‘Behind India’s record-setting growth lies a glaring caveat: The world’s most populous country has a serious data problem,’ the article highlights both the obsolescence and poor quality of Indian economic data.

Many of the government’s surveys are based on decade-old data and categories of consumption that no longer exist. India’s former chief statistician, Pronab Sen, is quoted, “We have programs for people below the poverty line, but we don’t know the number of poor people.” Beniwal also quotes from a column written by Modi’s economic advisor Bibek Debroy and his colleague Aditya Sinha published in The Hindu that same week, Our ability to track inflation effectively has been severely undermined. Our tools for understanding and managing our economic reality are grossly inadequate.”

As an example, Beniewal writes about the services sector. “The segment is now responsible for roughly half of a household’s spending, though it holds a 24% weight in India’s CPI, which hasn’t been updated since 2012. In another example, Indians spend less than 30% on food, though that metric comprises about half of the CPI basket.” She goes on to recount a comment made by Chief Statistician GP Samant in June. “What we cannot measure we cannot manage,” he said, while promising to “create an ecosystem where data guides policymakers on the path of sustainable development.”

The government started a new consumer expenditure survey in 2022, after years of delays. Meant to capture consumption patterns and help in policy formulation, it won’t, however, feed into GDP or CPI metrics for at least two years, forcing analysts to use alternative indicators like air traffic and fuel demand to check the pulse of India’s economy.

Researchers are not only vexed by outdated numbers – frequent revisions to existing base data add frustration and complexity, making it difficult to predict the details of where one of the world’s fastest-growing economies is headed. Data revisions made India’s growth appear impressive despite the devastating ban on high denomination notes. Another revision following the economic contraction of the pandemic lockdown tried to make the country’s recovery look rosier than it is.

Beniwal goes on to quote, Kunal Kundu, a Societe Generale GSC economist, “Forecasting growth in India is a ‘hazardous task,’ partly because the numbers are so elastic. Gross domestic product for last quarter surprised many when it came in one percentage point higher than estimates. The reason everybody got this wrong is the alarming regularity with which the data is getting revised.”

Officials themselves avoid the government’s own figures. For instance, rather than use ‘bad data,’ economists at the Reserve Bank of India are likely using a combination of intuition and inflation numbers to set interest rates, according to Sen. RBI Governor Shaktikanta Das said in June, “Monetary policymakers supplement official estimates with information on auxiliary variables to have a firmer assessment and minimize policy errors emanating from data revision.”

The consumer expenditure survey, as well as the new nationwide census, haven’t been updated since 2011. With the number of field investigators stagnant since the 1970s, poorly trained contractors are responsible for collecting the bulk of demographic information despite population growth of hundreds of millions.

The infusion of politics into data collection has frustrated many of India’s official statisticians, who’ve emphasized that the nation can’t reach its growth goals if nobody knows what’s happening on the ground,” said PC Mohanan, the former head of India’s National Statistical Commission, who resigned in 2019 to protest the government’s decision to withhold a jobs report. He added, “There is a credibility crisis. In the absence of real and credible data, people will go for all kinds of interpretations and that is a problem. Who knows what the right picture is, because there is no survey.”

2023 promises an interesting ride for print in India

Indian Printer and Publisher founded in 1979 is the oldest B2B trade publication in the multi-platform and multi-channel IPPGroup. While the print and packaging industries have been resilient in the past 33 months since the pandemic lockdown of 25 March 2020, the commercial printing and newspaper industries have yet to recover their pre-Covid trajectory.

The fragmented commercial printing industry faces substantial challenges as does the newspaper industry. While digital short-run printing and the signage industry seem to be recovering a bit faster, ultimately their growth will also be moderated by the progress of the overall economy. On the other hand book printing exports are doing well but they too face several supply-chain and logistics challenges.

The price of publication papers including newsprint has been high in the past year while availability is diminished by several mills shutting down their publication paper and newsprint machines in the past four years. Indian paper mills are also exporting many types of paper and have raised prices for Indian printers. To some extent, this has helped in the recovery of the digital printing industry with its on-demand short-run and low-wastage paradigm.

Ultimately digital print and other digital channels will help print grow in a country where we are still far behind in our paper and print consumption and where digital is a leapfrog technology that will only increase the demand for print in the foreseeable future. For instance, there is no alternative to a rise in textbook consumption but this segment will only reach normality in the next financial year beginning on 1 April 2023.

Thus while the new normal is a moving target and many commercial printers look to diversification, we believe that our target audiences may shift and change. Like them, we will also have to adapt with agility to keep up with their business and technical information needs.

Our 2023 media kit is ready, and it is the right time to take stock and reconnect with your potential markets and customers. Print is the glue for the growth of liberal education, new industry, and an emerging economy. We seek your participation in what promises to be an interesting ride.

– Naresh Khanna

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