In line with the release of EPFO’s enrollment data for gauging the employment scenario, the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation (MoSPI) is now in talks with ministries to release data related to other administrative schemes. Chief Statistician of India Pravin Srivastava in an interview with Aanchal Magazine said that these surveys “will supplement and complement rather than be a substitute”. Srivastava attributed the recent revisions in EPFO enrollment data to the attritions getting reported with a lag, adding that they never “talked about job creation” and that EPFO data should be instead seen as a proxy for formalisation. Excerpts:
There is discussion to change the base year of GDP to 2017-18 but some have said that it may not be the best year to choose since 2016-17 was the year of demonetisation, when growth was impacted. Is it fine to go ahead with it?
Even if it was a demonetisation year, the (NSSO) survey has already got completed in terms of (household) consumption and expenditure. That’s the core for most of our base year and changes. That fieldwork got over on June 30, we are expecting the results within a year. Hopefully by June, we will get the quick results and that will form the basis for major macroeconomic series.
MoSPI has been in talks with the EPFO about the constant revision of the enrollment data. In the latest release, there has been an upward revision with even those who are shifting jobs being counted. Is that the new methodology?
It’s not a question of the methodology. You have to appreciate the MIS in context to the data flow. Like the EPFO would have a registration system where people who are coming into the EPFO system, they get registered through the employer. New employers come on board and that ecosystem has to be understood in terms of when are the statutory filings. The statutory filings, one is on a monthly basis, which they have to do, otherwise there is some penalty associated to it. In case it is not done, then added to the penalty but then it gets accrued to the month when it was due. There is other issue as well in terms of people leaving or attrition. There is no time limit that you can do it, so what happens is that while I am prompt in paying the subscription dues against the member of the EPFO, there is a time lag by which I can report that the person has stopped paying. Because of this time lag, there is fluctuation in the series and you can interpret it that you have reduced the number but in fact, what has happened is that these people have started complying to submit that report to the EPFO. Since most of the reporting is online, so whatever data gets affected, it goes to the corresponding month. For example, a firm finds that one of their employees has no longer contributed, they can report that even six months or one year down the line, depending on their responsiveness and then September (2017) data gets revised.
But what about the criticism that the numbers for those who are shifting jobs are not reflective of job creation? Is it right to add them?
I don’t think we ever talked about job creation. It was trying to say that these people have entered the formal market. They were not unemployed, they need not have been unemployed earlier. But once they come to the EPFO system and their aim is to capture people who are in decent jobs, which mean they must have access to social security and other things. Therefore, anyone who is subscribing to EPFO, you have to treat it as a proxy for formalisation.
What are the other changes to datasets being planned by the ministry?
We are doing lot of capacity building, trying to improve the responsiveness as a system to meet the requirements of government and policymaking so that it’s not a historical dataset but you can take action immediately. It’s not only the MoSPI, we are talking to other ministries as well, we are trying to improve the datasets. Like we have done for EPFO, ESIC to improve the regular flow of data from the administrative system so that it can be used as an alternate and these surveys will supplement and complement rather than be a substitute.
What could be more examples of such administrative data?
For example, if you take the health sector, you have the MIS and you also have the National Family Health Survey (NFHS). So we will work on ways and methods on how they can complement each other. Similarly, our PLFS will complement data coming from the EPFO, ESIC and NPS.
Some of the datasets have become redundant. Even for employment, the focus shifted to EPFO data even though it has limitations. Is there a focus on new datasets before polls?
That’s one advantage with the statistical system that we have a timeline, we have our cycles. So, if my GDP has to come on November 30, then it will come, hail or storm. It will come. So when we specify a timeline, it will come as per schedule. We are not influenced by any particular thing, if there’s a code of conduct, we will have to seek the concurrence of the Election Commission.
You mentioned about new technology for field surveys. Earlier also there were talks of smart devices and tablets, what’s the present status?
It’s already been implemented for Periodic Labour Force Survey but it’s a very short survey and is amenable to tablets, it’s amenable to mobile apps also. But there are lot of other surveys like household consumption and expenditure survey is a very elaborate scheme where you have many questions. Our investigators go to the field and probe the respondents and then they are able to fill it up. What we are planning to do is to convert it to an electronic schedule which can get directly uploaded to a portal, so we are working to get that in place. So that the moment the data gets captured, it gets uploaded on the portal, gets analysed, validated, so when the supervisory and monitoring mechanism sets in, you can cross verify from the field. By reducing that time lag, we are expecting the results of the new surveys would be out much faster, we will not wait for the one-year timeline. This is still in the experimental stage, I don’t want to say how much I can reduce but yes, we will reduce it.
What’s the status of Periodic Labour Force Survey? Results were expected this year.
It’s going to come within the next two months. I think by early December or mid-December, we should come with some results.