After a long time, I went home to India this winter. I was there to collect price data that the Labour Bureau gathers every week from 94 towns and cities in India to construct the consumer price index for industrial workers (CPIIW). Similar data are collected from another 600 villages and 300 towns by the National Sample Survey Organization (NSSO) for the Labour Bureau to construct other consumer price indices. With some help from well placed friends, I could get the raw data for CPIIW in a neat excel spreadsheet. Obtaining the NSS data will require more effort and one more trip home.
Social scientists will always rue the lack of enough data. Yet I am amazed by how much secondary data is available in India and how underutilized the data remain in both research and policy making. Much of this data is easier to access today than it was a decade ago when I started research. Increasing computer penetration of Government offices has helped. Right to Information (RTI) Act has also made a difference. The data were always there—right from the colonial era. Digitization makes sharing data convenient and cheaper while the RTI is making government departments more willing to share and disseminate what they own.
Today, all ministries and departments in Government of India and even the State Governments have their own websites with a link to Data or Statistics—for easy download. Still, what is available on the internet is only a small fraction of the data that different government bodies collect and collate. After RTI, even these unshared and un-disseminated data are easier to obtain. These changes offer great opportunities to do economics research in India.