Thank god it’s Friday. That’s doubtless the feeling that washed over NITI Aayog Vice Chairman Rajiv Kumar and Chief Executive Officer Amitabh Kant as their shambolic press conference on Thursday was submerged by wall-to-wall media coverage of the interim budget. But for those who missed it, here are some of the highlights of the event at which the NITI Aayog officials attempted to explain away a Business Standard scoopclaming that a National Sample Survey Office report that the government had attempted to suppress showed that unemployment had hit a 45-year high in 2017-’18.
Kumar insisted that the jobs data, collected by the National Sample Survey Office and approved by the National Statistical Commission, was yet to be verified. But when asked who was supposed to do that verification, Kumar was stumped – and tellingly suggested “the Cabinet” as an answer.
Here is a section of what Kumar said at the press conference.
“Rajiv Kumar: ‘This data is not verified, it is still being processed, this is why the government has not released it yet. That’s why it would be wrong to cite this data... It is not correct to take this report as the final report.’
Reporter: ‘You are saying it has not been approved. Who will approve it?’
Rajiv Kumar: ‘The government will approve it. The point is that reports are cleared...’
Reporter: ‘Isn’t it the role of the NSC to approve? Who else will approve it?’
Rajiv Kumar: ‘Who else will approve it? Well I suppose the Cabinet will approve it.’
Q: ‘Cabinet, sir?’
Rajiv Kumar: ‘I don’t know.’”
In the normal course of things, data of this sort is supposed to be collected by independent bodies like the statistical commission and reviewed by the National Statistical Commission, before being put out. The government’s refusal to do so with the report prompted two members of the National Statistical Commission to resign earlier this week.
It isn’t clear why the NITI Aayog, a more political, government-appointed think tank, was brought in to explain the situation. This has raised eyebrows, as it did when Rajiv Kumar was deployed to explain a debate about Gross Domestic Product back series data.
Here is another exchange that occured at the press conference.
“Reporter: ‘Why isn’t NSSO clarifying?’
Rajiv Kumar: ‘Because this data concerns jobs, and jobs is one of the main concerns of NITI Aayog. And as it happens the Chief Statistician is today not in Delhi.’
Reporter: ‘Doesn’t the NSC have the final say over NSSO methodology and its reports?’
Rajiv Kumar: ‘My honest answer is that I don’t know what the procedural situation is. NITI Aayog does not have the full information on unemployment in the country.’”
Kumar was followed by Amitabh Kant, the CEO of NITI Aayog, who decided the best way to show that there had indeed been job growth in the country was by pointing to start-ups. Kant claimed that the government was creating enough jobs, but admitted that they may not be high-quality jobs. As proof that jobs were being created, he cited the rising number of Uber and Ola drivers.
“Amitabh Kant: ‘The nature of jobs in India is changing. If you were to just look at employment generation through app-based services and we are going to circulate a brief note…if you were to look at Ola, in 2014 Ola had 37,000 registered partnered drivers across 20 cities. Now it has grown to over a million driver partners across 110 cities in March 2018. And Uber has over 1.2 million registered partner drivers in Indian cities…it has created more than 2.2 million employments over the last four years.’
Reporter: ‘They [drivers] are duplicate... they are registered with both.’
Amitabh Kant: ‘Maybe... that’s exactly what I’m saying... like the world across the nature of jobs is changing. The Ola and Uber cab business both have created about 2.2 million employment, you can say maybe 15%-20% between Ola and Uber, not everyone is registered with both, that doesn’t happen.’”
Kant made it clear that he thinks that the problem is the quality of jobs, and not the quantity.
“Reporter: ‘Mr Kant would you agree that the post-demonetisation job data is not encouraging at all?’
Kant: ‘There has been some comparison of 2011-2012 because it was done once in five years and here it is being done quarter by quarter…what the vice chairman is saying that to capture whether there has been a decline or an increase you have to compare one quarter by another quarter. We have to capture scientifically the incremental change what we call the delta and for that you have to wait for the quarter data to come.’...
‘The basic point is that there are three narratives. One narrative is saying that there is a totally jobless growth in this country, the second narrative says that there are a sufficient jobs being created, the third narrative says that we are creating jobs but we are not creating adequate good jobs where quality of jobs is a problem. Now obviously you can’t be growing annually at 7.2% and saying that there are no jobs in the economy…that would require massive productivity growth...
‘To my mind, the problem is that there is a problem is that there is a lack of good quality jobs, there is a wages problem and there is a big informal sector in the economy.’”
Here is the full video.