Modi government has a hidden jobs report — say two independent bureaucrats who just quit


  • The only non-government appointed members of the National Statistical Commission have quit.
  • The resigning members allege that Modi government has withheld key employment data.
  • The undisclosed report would have been India’s first official survey on employment in 2 years.

Two independent members of a commission created to add credibility to India’s economic data have stepped down.

On January 29th, Chairman PC Manohan and JV Meenakshi - the only external members of India’s National Statistics Commission, a body under the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation - resigned well before the end of their terms scheduled in June next year.

The body only comprises government appointees - Niti Aayog CEO Amitabh Kant and Chief Statistician Pravin Srivastava.

Their reasons for resigning? They did not like the way the government shelved their data.

An official employment survey done in 2017-18 was vetted by the Commission and is due to be published. But the government has chosen not to make it public.

Sources told Business Standard that the labour force survey had been approved in December 2018, but had been withheld from public because the government did not like the findings.

The jobs data, surveyed by the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO), would have put to rest an escalated debate on the number of jobs created, which has been the Achilles heel for the Modi government. The last time India released an official labour survey was in 2016, which showed that unemployment had risen to a five-year high to 5%.

Periodic employment surveys from the NSSO, which were discontinued in 2012, were deemed as the most authoritative source on India’s unemployment picture, followed by the annual surveys conducted by the country’s labour bureau. All other job data proxies are said to be at best a reflection of under 10% to 25% of the country’s labour force, according to a Mint report in 2018.

The administration has been sparring with its critics for months now dismissing the charge that the government has not been able to create jobs in the country, despite what the overall economic growth might be.

The Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE), an independent think tank, recently found that 11 million domestic jobs were lost in 2018, 9.1 million of which were in rural areas, as unemployment reached a 15-month high of 7.4% at the end of December.

Most of the jobs were for unskilled workers, indicating a hit to the most vulnerable members of the workforce, according to the CMIE. In fact, in September last year, Mahesh Vyas, the CEO of CMIE, said that over 3.5 million jobs were lost in the wake of demonetisation in November 2016, in addition to the exodus of 15 million people from the workforce.

However, the government cited data from the Employee Provident Fund Organisation -- which runs the retirement benefits fund-- to say that it had created 18 million jobs over the last 15 months. Critics of the Modi government argue that the EPFO data at best shows the level of formal employment, whereas 81% of India’s workforce is in the informal sector where there are no retirement benefits.

The jobs data is only one of the concerns raised by the independent members of the NSC who stepped down.

They also reportedly complained against the government’s release of back-series GDP data in November without taking their inputs into consideration.

The back-series data was particularly controversial because it dramatically reduced the growth rate achieved during the preceding Congress administration’s tenure. The report was released ahead of the state polls in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh.

Speaking to Business Standard, Pronab Sen, India's former chief statistician, said that the resignation of Manohan and Meenakshi was "entirely appropriate", given that the NSC is meant to add credibility to data released by the government.

Rivals have charged the government for not respecting institutional autonomy. While critics wonder how bad the jobs data might be, for the government to put it aside without explanation.

Now, the Modi government has a monumental task of reassuring its voters and the world that the data released from India is credible. One of the ways to do it is to release the jobs data catching dust on the government shelves.


SEE ALSO:

India’s BJP-led government has released a set of revised GDP data that dramatically reduces growth during the previous administration’s tenure

The resignation of the governor of India’s central bank sends a clear indication about the erosion of institutional autonomy under the Modi administration
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