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Rediff News  All News  » Business » Poll code halts release of consumer index numbers

Poll code halts release of consumer index numbers

May 05, 2009 11:39 IST
The Model Code of Conduct for the ongoing Lok Sabha elections has come in the way of release of routine economic data like the consumer price indices.

The government is yet to get any response to its plea to the Election Commission to release the March 2009 numbers for the consumer price indices for industrial workers (CPI-IW), agricultural labourers (CPI-AL) and rural labourers (CPI-RL).

A Labour Bureau official said the data on these three key indices were sent to the commission on April 30.

"We have told the commission that the indices are routine economic indicators which do not flout the electoral code of conduct. Till date, the EC has not responded," the official said, requesting anonymity. The code prohibits any activity that is perceived to influence the voter.

The figures for these three indices are compiled by the Labour Bureau under the Ministry of Labour and Employment. The indices capture the retail price movement of goods consumed by the three groups mentioned above.

The index numbers for farm and rural labourers are released on 20th of every month, and the one for industrial workers is made public on the last working day of the month.

Unlike headline inflation, which is based on wholesale prices and is hovering around the zero rate, the last released CPI indices are near double-digit levels.

When contacted, EC's Media and Communication Director Rajesh Malhotra refused to comment, saying: "I have no information regarding this."

While maintaining that the three indices need to be updated, economists say that the March numbers should have been released. "The indices need to have a new basket of items. But they are still something to look at," said Sumita Kale, an economist at Indicus Analytics.

Surjit S Bhalla, Chairman of Oxus Investments and a member of the National Statistical Commission, said: "If the EC is doing this, it is way beyond its mandate."

Significantly, while the release of CPI numbers for March has been put on hold, that of the Wholesale Price Index (WPI) continues to be released.

The WPI-based inflation figures, which are released by the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion, are on a downward curve since August 2008 and stood at 0.57 per cent for the week ended April 18.

However, the rate of increase in the three CPIs remains high. The inflation rate based on CPI-IW has dropped marginally to 9.63 per cent in February 2009, compared with 10.45 per cent in the previous month.

The consumer price indices for farm labourers (CPI-AL) and rural labourers (CPI-RL) are still ruling above the 10 per cent mark.

Therefore, the high inflation rate as measured by the CPI indicates that even when wholesale prices are falling, the consumer, who buys goods in retail, is not benefiting from this.

Devika Banerji in New Delhi