The National Sample Survey Office’s (NSSO) job survey for 2017-18 that records a surge in the unemployment rate to over 6 per cent, a 45-year high, and which the Government is sitting on, set off a firestorm Thursday.
While Niti Aayog called it a “draft report,” former acting National Statistical Commission (NSC) Chairman P C Mohanan, who resigned earlier this week because the report wasn’t released, rebutted the claim and told The Indian Express that this was the “final report” and it needed no further approval.
Niti Aayog Vice Chairman Rajiv Kumar, at a press conference Thursday, said the quarterly employment data sets for the July-December 2018 period (two quarters) are still being processed and the government would release the employment survey report by March “after collating quarter-on-quarter data”.
However, Mohanan said: “This (NSSO Periodic Labour Force Survey) was the final report. As per procedure, National Statistical Commission approves the report. We approved the report and no authority has to give any further approval. NSSO reports used to be released and all analysis takes place after the release,” Mohanan told The Indian Express after Niti Aayog’s press conference.
The country’s unemployment rate surged to over 6 per cent in 2017-18, the highest since 1972-73, according to the survey, said an official who was part of the deliberations for the survey’s approval in December. The findings of the survey were first reported by Business Standard on Thursday.
Questions on data handling, dent image
For an economy of India’s size, integrity of data is critical to policy making and also has global implications. As with GDP data, the controversy around the job survey, the protest resignation of two top members of the statistics commission, dents the credibility of the government and data institutions.
This is the first comprehensive report on employment situation in the Modi government and it captures the impact of demonetisation on the economy.
When Kumar was asked who else would approve the report, he said, “I suppose the Cabinet will approve it. I don’t know.”
Kumar also said that the members who resigned from National Statistical Commission did not contact him, neither did he contact them and they have resigned for personal reasons.
On Monday, protesting against the withholding of the NSSO’s survey, Mohanan had quit, Another colleague J V Meenakshi had also resigned. Mohanan was the Acting Chairperson before he resigned, Meenakshi quit as the Member NSC.
NSC is an autonomous body constituted in 2006 and tasked to monitor and review the functioning of the country’s statistical systems. Three years ago, it was also snubbed by Niti Aayog over finalisation of GDP back series data.
Mohanan, a career statistician, and Meenakshi, professor at the Delhi School of Economics, were appointed by the government as members in the NSC in June 2017.
Asked why was Niti Aayog was holding a press conference on NSSO data, Kumar said Chief Statistician Pravin Srivastava was out of Delhi and could not be present. He said that the Central Statistics Office (CSO) was part of the erstwhile Planning Commission and so “Niti Aayog and NSSO are not completely distinct”.
Kumar claimed that 11-12 per cent nominal economic growth can’t happen if employment hasn’t grown. “I want to tell you there is enough evidence to show jobs have been created,” Kumar said. Niti Aayog CEO Amitabh Kant, who is also member of NSC and was present at the meeting, said the country is creating adequate number of jobs for new entrants but “probably we are not creating high quality jobs”.
Lack of good quality jobs and a large informal sector is adding to our economic woes, he added. Kant cited jobs being created by app-based services. He said that Ola and Uber have created over 2 million jobs.
Kant added that Niti Aayog’s estimate shows that the country is creating 7-7.8 million jobs every year and the nature of jobs is also changing. Citing a report by McKinsey Global Institute, Kant said a combination of increased government spending, additional IT hiring, and increase in entrepreneurship created gainful employment for 20-26 million people between 2014 and 2017.
Kant also cited a study based on data collected by the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers (SIAM) and the Tractor and Mechanization Association (TMA) to say that over 14 million jobs were created in the transport sector between 2014-2018.
Pronab Sen, Country Director for the India Programme of the International Growth Centre and former chief statistician of India, also said that NSC has been the final approving authority for data releases since its inception and sending it to another authority, say, the Cabinet will be “unprecedented”.
“NSC was created as a substitute for governing council which used to have the last word on surveys. Since 2006, when the NSC was formed, data has been released within five days of approval by the NSC,” Sen said.
Sen said such frequent data revisions and withholding of data dents the credibility of India, along the lines of China, adding that it is not the business of NITI Aayog to interfere in the GDP back series data and now defending the fact that the NSSO survey hasn’t been released.
“The issue is political interference. It sends a bad signal. In the middle of this controversy, the GDP growth data also got revised upwards. NITI Aayog is a political organisation as was the Planning Commission,” Sen said.