National Sample Survey: How India taught the world the art of collecting data

But the results of the survey were extraordinary, delivering remarkably granular information about the daily lives of Indians. The second survey, for example, told policymakers exactly how much one Chidambaram Mudaly, his wife, three daughters, and mother-in-law – who lived in a remote village in the southern state of Tamil Nadu – spent on ghee, rice, wheat, salt, tea, chillies and other essentials. While this family’s financial outlay wasn’t significant on its own, when aggregated with tens of thousands of other data points, it allowed economic planners and policymakers to understand the economy in a fundamentally different way.

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