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Govt proposes Data Ombudsman, higher penalty for refusal to submit data for key economic stats

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NEW DELHI: The government on Monday proposed a ‘Data Ombudsman’ for in-house resolution of issues related to the collection of key statistics in the country so as to reduce the number of cases that need legal recourse.

“The Data Ombudsman shall in addition to the functions designated, also strengthen the system of mutual trust, building the goodwill and conflict resolution through various conciliation processes,” the ministry of statistics and programme implementation (MoSPI) said in the proposed amendments to decriminalise the Collection of Statistics Act.

Collection of Statistics Act 2008 provides for penal action for refusal and failure to submit data.

The Data Ombudsman would be a ministry official.

Explaining that criminalizing procedural lapses and minor non-compliances increases burden on businesses, the ministry also said that an in-house resolution mechanism framework would help build goodwill so that the legal provisions are rarely taken recourse to.

“The resolution framework would explore all instruments namely, persuasion, mediation, and negotiation, to name a few, before invoking the compliance through criminal justice system,” it said.

The ministry also widened the scope of the Act to include processing, storage and dissemination of statistics and generate data systems for other areas of human development. At present, the Act has in its ambit the collection of statistics on economic, demographic, social, scientific and environmental aspects.

The government has also proposed to increase penalties so that they act as deterrents for non-compliance with the law.

For obstruction or interference of employees in the data collection exercise, a ten times higher penalty of Rs 1 lakh is proposed for companies and Rs 20,000 for individuals. Similar fines are proposed for employees for their failure to function as per the Act and also for those pretending to be authorized to collect statistics.

Any company which fails, neglects, refuses wilfully makes any false or misleading statement can now be fined upto Rs 50,000 instead of Rs 5,000 at present while for individuals, this has been increased 10 times to Rs 10,000.

“The penalty should be large enough (10 times high) that it has a deterrent effect on the person/company to effect compliance with the directions to furnish necessary information under the CoS Act,” it said.

Failing to furnish the necessary information within 14 days from the conviction would attract double penalty Rs 10,000 for companies and Rs 2,000 for individuals.

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