India’s statistical system was once a source of pride but now it’s becoming a proxy for institutional decay. The latest problem is the hollowing out of the National Statistical Commission, a body entrusted with setting standards. Its last two independent members put in their papers on Monday, leaving the seven-member body with just two representatives, both from government. The proximate cause was government delay in releasing a new series of employment data, which has been ready for two months. This delay suggests a worryingly casual approach to economic policy making.
Household surveys are the most comprehensive method of assessing the job market. For decades India had a robust household survey for employment, carried out by NSSO at five-yearly intervals. Unfortunately the last survey was released in 2011-12. Government has released other indicators of employment since then but nothing that matches the breadth of NSSO’s five-year surveys. To plug the gap, in 2017 NSSO began a new household survey to publish annual labour force data – whose release is being delayed, perhaps till after the Lok Sabha elections.
Indeed the larger problem undermining the statistical system is politicisation of data. In the same vein, when the statistics ministry belatedly released back series data for GDP last year, not only was the back series incomplete Niti Aayog got involved in it. Political motives were ascribed to this. Delay in employment data will be viewed the same way – especially as a private initiative by Bombay Stock Exchange and CMIE to estimate employment through household surveys shows that things are tough in the job market. If India’s statistical system is to regain its lustre, politicisation must stop. Job creation being a critical measure of the efficacy of economic policy, India needs robust and regular job data to achieve better outcomes.
This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.
via Don’t hide job data: National Statistical Commission’s hollowing out is bad news for economic policy making