Delay in releasing key employment data has undermined the credibility of data officialdom
The resignations of the National Statistical Commission’s acting Chairperson P.C. Mohanan and member J.V. Meenakshi appear linked to the Centre’s refusal to release new data on employment that were due to be made public in December 2018. They could also be related to unease about the recently unveiled back-series data on the economy, which recorded slower growth during the UPA-led government’s rule, and were released by the NITI Aayog bypassing convention and the commission’s views. Reports suggest that the findings of the new Periodic Labour Force Survey, for July 2017-December 2018, are not too flattering, with unemployment registering a five-decade high. The government has said no such reservations were expressed by Mr. Mohanan or Dr. Meenakshi during NSC meetings and that the report will be released after ‘quarterly’ data for the survey period is processed. A key role of the NSC, set up in 2006, is to verify whether data being put in the public domain are reliable and adequate. Information has been collected and disseminated by successive governments under laid-down schedules, earning Indian data greater global trust than most other emerging market peers, especially China.
On the question of job-creation for the youth, the Prime Minister and his Cabinet have been building an argument that jobs abound, but credible data are missing. The National Sample Survey Organisation’s quinquennial employment surveys were to be conducted in 2016-17. The year was switched to 2017-18 as the new Labour Force Survey was being prepared to replace it. Separately, a quarterly survey of select employment-intensive sectors initiated by the Labour Bureau after the 2008 global financial crisis, that provided some clarity on ground realities, was inexplicably junked. Instead, proxy data from enrolments into social security schemes for formal sector employees are being touted as a sign of job-creation: economists have rightly called them out as inaccurate. Even then, Arun Jaitley, in his last year’s Budget speech, cited ‘an independent study’ to claim seven million formal jobs will be created in 2018-19. The Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy has pegged job losses in 2018 at 11 million based on its regular employment surveys. The government’s coy approach to jobs-related data may be due to its disastrous demonetisation gambit which hurt supply chains and informal jobs in the economy and whose effects have lingered. Contrast this with the NSSO surveys of 2009-10 that revealed little good news on household incomes and job-creation, thanks to after-effects of the global financial crisis. The UPA didn’t dither from releasing the data, took criticism on its chin, explained it was an exceptional situation and commissioned another set of surveys in 2011-12 to correct for the timing. The Modi government should have treaded the same path without upending India’s statistical integrity.
via Standard deviations: On jobs data – The Hindu