Growth Fetish

The Indian media’s unhealthy obsession with GDP numbers

01 August 2016

On 3 June this year, writing in the Economic Times’ editorial page, the journalist Abheek Barman declared that, “At 7.6%, India is the fastest-growing economy or the best data fudger.” Barman, a consulting editor with the news channel ET Now, called the gross domestic product estimates released by the government on 31 May “a crazy statistical fudge” and “a delight for emperors in need of new clothes.”

For these serious accusations, he had the following to offer as evidence. “The bulk of growth has apparently materialised from Rs 140,000 crore—try wrapping your mind around that number—of ‘discrepancies’ in our balance sheets,” he wrote. Barman said that TCA—the chief statistician of India, TCA Anant—“has conjured up a more than four-fold jump in ‘discrepancies’ and padded it to the GDP number.” He added, “Take away the rubbish in data”—read discrepancies— and “our actual growth rate is around 4%, about half of what is being claimed.”

It wasn’t just the Economic Times. Mainstream media was flooded with opinion pieces that alleged data fudging by the government, citing the discrepancies figure as evidence. Many publications repeated the claim that, if one excluded the discrepancies from the GDP, the growth rate would come down to around 4 percent. A Huffington Post headline read “Gross Discrepancies Projected,” while one in Mint claimed “Discrepancies drive GDP growth.” The most alarming headline came from the Deccan Chronicle, which interpreted “discrepancies” literally, and used a perceived synonym in its headline: “India admits to errors in GDP numbers.”

Aakanksha Kaushik is an assistant professor of economics at Motilal Nehru College at Delhi University. She is also a PhD student at Jawaharlal Nehru University.