It is a matter of shame that India
stands accused of censoring data
on petty political grounds. The last two issues of The Economist
have brought out results from the Rapid Survey on Children, a survey of children’s health carried out in India over 2013 and 2014 jointly by the government of India and the UN agency for children, Unicef.The government released some data last October but has been sitting on the rest. The Economist got hold of the data and has published its findings, first on immunisation and then on malnourishment
. The survey results show remarkable progress over the previous decade on immunisation and malnutrition for the country as a whole.Why should the government act coy about the proportion of malnourished Indian children falling from 42.5% to 30%? Because it does not suit Prime Minister Narendra Modi
, says The Economist.For one, such progress on the health front in a decade in which the country was run by the Congress-led UPA
would pick holes in the narrative pop ularised by Modi and the BJP
in the run-up to the 2014 elections, that the country had gone to rack and ruin under the UPA. For another, the data show that Gujarat
, the state Modi ran as chief minister over this period and held up by him as a model of sound development, has fared poorly on both boosting immunisation and on reducing malnutrition. Worse, much poorer Bihar
, run by political rival Nitish Kumar
whom Modi has to take on in state elections later this year, made more progress than Gujarat has. Unicef does not find any serious flaws with the survey method or data. There is no reason to withhold the data from the Indian public.
Health statistics are not a vital state secret. Withholding data that do not suit the political agenda of the government of the day amounts to censorship. Censorship is not acceptable in a democracy . That the government resorts to such censorship only points to an authoritarian bent of mind, revealed also by the reported monitoring of media outlets to document favourableunfavourable coverage. India needs more, not less, democracy .