The former acting chairperson of the National Statistical Commission on Sunday denied the Centre’s claim that the unreleased unemployment survey was merely a draft. PC Mohanan, in an interview with Mint, said that the report, which showed that unemployment was at 6.1%, its highest level in 45 years, was final once the commission approved it.
Mohanan resigned as the acting chairperson of the panel on January 29. Union Minister of Statistics and Programme Implementation Sadananda Gowda had described the data as fake. “Once I approve it, how is it a draft report?” Mohanan asked. “When we approve a report, I am not going to give a figure which is not comparable with the other ones. Second, the concept of employment and unemployment are universally accepted. International Labour Organization prescribes the standards, we all follow it.”
About the government’s plans to collect and process employment data from July to December 2018, Mohanan said it is unlikely there will be much variation between the annual and quarterly figures. “In India, you don’t expect too many changes in annual employment from the quarter,” he said. “Here we don’t give people unemployment allowance or security. And many of the people employed are in the government sector.”
Mohanan said that the commission found out in November that the Niti Aayog was going to publish Gross Domestic Product back series data. “It has never happened,” he said. “All these statistical releases are done by the Central Statistical Office, ministry of statistics or the National Sample Survey Office.” Mohanan said the Niti Aayog is a political body, while official statistical reports the world over are supposed to be independent.
Mohanan added that the National Sample Survey Office cleared the report, but it was not uploaded on the website. The former National Statistical Commission acting chairperson said he was unable to find out why the data was not released, so he resigned.
“Previously, when the ministry prepared a national policy on statistics, they did not tell us,” he added. “They circulated the policy and tried to get a cabinet approval. We protested saying it is the commission not the ministry which should be bringing the policy.”
“The general feeling is that there is a carefully crafted narrative, with respect to GDP numbers, unemployment and so on,” he added. “So if you find something that is not compatible with it, you are suppressing it. NSSO is the largest survey organisation anywhere in the world. Most of the international agencies have followed our methodology.”
“When I first saw the numbers, I realised it may not be comfortable for the government,” he said. However, Mohanan said the Centre could have released the data and interpreted it differently to contain the political damage.
The statistician said the jobs data shows a “story of rural transformation”. Earlier, the percentage of girls in education dropped off around the age of 17, he said. However, now, “instead of dropping out at a very early age, the percentage of women in the education system is very high until the age of 23 or 24,” Mohanan added. This means that the labour force has declined because women join it several years later than before.
Mohanan said that even after exiting college, many women do not merely work on their parents’ farm or get married. “I think awareness and aspirations have gone up,” he said. “They don’t want to enter into a low-productive work. This immediately will pick up the unemployment ratio because they are not showing up in the unemployment-numerator.”
Mohanan told Mint that the reason the GDP continues to rise while unemployment rises might be that job losses have mostly taken place in small and micro enterprises, which do not contribute much to domestic production. Mohanan also said it is difficult to assess the impact of demonetisation on jobs.
The statistician said he is pained that the Centre is trying to discredit the National Sample Survey Office. “Doubts should not come into people’s minds as the government is publishing only what is favourable to them,” he added.