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Role of Big Data in Economic Survey 2016-17

 July 15  | 0 Comments

As the Economic Survey of India tabled its report in the Parliament on 31st January, for the first time in its history, big data and intensive data-mining of multiple datasets were used to “shed new light on the flow of goods and people within India.” According to Chief Economic Advisor, Arvind Subramanian, “exciting new evidence on the flows of migrants within India, based on detailed origin-destination passenger data provided by the Ministry of Railways and on a new methodology for analyzing the Census data.”

How Multiple Datasets Made a Difference

The survey this time used individual tax filing from the Goods and Services Tax Network to investigate on Intra and interstate trade.  The Indian Railway provided with the data of the station-wise unreserved passenger traffic for estimation of the migration owing to work. Even satellite image has been used to calculate the built-up area property tax collection estimation which indicates that Bengaluru and Jaipur collect only between 5% to 20% of their potential property taxes. Apart from the existing database, the survey made extensive use of large-scale machine generated data set to come up with insightful information. This includes the use of National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) statistics, which are the main source of employment and poverty/inequality statistics in India and Socio-Economic Caste Census (SECC) data.

A Significant Leap

This new approach of considering several different datasets for the survey is being considered a significant step forward to better policy making. More so, as the census data used for calculating different factors still uses 2001 census which is far from relevant for the current population of India and its problems. This can be well demonstrated by the migration data using railway traffic as the data used for this were from 2001 census as detailed 2011 census still has not been released. However, the railway traffic based migration is available now using improved dataset. Accessibility of such data on a regular basis can help utilization of the data to derive insights and information on employment and distress-related scenarios for migrant workers, which is currently absolutely reliant on guesstimates based on figures such as demand for jobs in the MGNREGA.
The use of satellite imagery to find out the built-up areas for the estimation of the potential property tax collection is another significant leap in the history of the Survey. Using this data from the satellite images along with income tax data of the top 50 cities in India can help draw far-sighted information about the cities.

What the Economic Survey 2016-17 Disclose

The survey stated the requirement for more economic reforms in India. The current economic growth of the country is 6.5 per cent for the current fiscal which is expected to see a rise to 6.75 to 7.5 percent in 2017-18. The GDP growth figures according to the survey are lower than 7.1 per cent which the Central Statistics Office had forecast earlier this month. The highlights of the Economic Survey 2016-17 tabled in the Parliament are as follows:

  • The GDP growth for next fiscal year is expected to be around 6.75-7.5 per cent
  • Growth at this fiscal is expected at 6.5 per cent.
  • Government is also expecting a fiscal windfall from Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana, which is an income tax disclosure scheme
  • It prescribes cut in individual I-T rates, real estate stamp duties.
  • Income Tax net could be widened gradually by covering all the high-income earners.
  • An acceleration of time table for cutting corporate tax.
  • An improvement of tax administration for reduction of discretion and improved accountability.
  • Return to normalcy and growth as new currency comes in circulation
  • A growth rate of 0.25-0.5 per cent has been affected by the demonetization, which will make way for long term benefits.
  • GST, other structural reforms to take the growth rate to 8-10 percent
  • Farm sector is expected to see a growth of 4.1 percent this fiscal, which is 1.2 percent up from last year
  • It will take some time to realize fiscal gains from GST
  • Demonetization may affect supplies of agricultural products like sugar, milk, potatoes and onions.
  • The industrial sector is expected to see a moderate growth of 5.2 per cent this fiscal as compared to 7.4 percent of last fiscal
  • Tax collection efforts on disclosed and undisclosed wealth should not lead to tax harassment
  • Universal Basic Income Scheme is an alternative to the state subsidies for poverty alleviation.
  • The analysis carried out for the Survey has found that greater service delivery in correlation with more resources, own revenue, staffing and capital spending per capita


The latest survey has uncovered a new dimension as far as government statistical analysis is concerned with big data and we can consider it a silver lining for better analysis of government data for the betterment of the citizens. The big data usage to a great extent can complement India’s traditional statistical machinery and can be a reason for significant improvement of analysis and policy framing. If the database is made accessible to independent researchers for analysis and verification of data, it can ensure more accountability and transparency on the part of the government.
However, there still remain sectors where big data might not be the answer for estimating the challenges and how they might be resolved. An example of this can be the informal sector, which is still quite unorganized and relevant data for big data analysis is difficult to come up with. In future big data coupled with machine learning might provide a significant solution to this and other similar problem. The Finance Minister of India, Arun Jaitley presented the budget post the Economic Survey 2016-17. The economic survey brings out the deficiency which the government needs to address in priority. How this survey impacts the budget or improves the lives of the common citizen is what time will reveal. Till then keep visiting our blogs for more interesting news and updates on technology around us at