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Why Controversy Around 2 Statistical Commission Members' Resignation Needs Your Attention

P C Mohanan, in a statement last night, said that there were disagreements with the government on the back-series GDP data and delay in the release of labour force survey.


Updated:January 30, 2019, 11:35 PM IST
Why Controversy Around 2 Statistical Commission Members' Resignation Needs Your Attention
File photo of PC Mohanan (left) and J V Meenakshi (right).

New Delhi: India’s National Statistical Commission (NSC) officially does not exist anymore. With acting chairman P C Mohanan and independent member J V Meenakshi quitting the national statistical commission late on Tuesday, the advisory body under the ministry of statistics and programme implementation (MoSPI) now only has two members left, Niti Aayog CEO Amitabh Kant and chief statistician, Pravin Srivastava.

The reasons because of which the resignation came assume importance. “We were not being taken seriously,” Mohanan told News18. He, in a statement last night, also said that there were disagreements with the government on the back-series GDP data and delay in the release of labour force survey. The latter simply calculates the rise and fall of jobs in the Indian economy.

Why is publicly-available data on jobs so important in India?

Mohanan had gone on record to say that the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) report on jobs post demonetisation was approved by the commission but never saw the light of the day. Here, it is important to note that India already has negligible centrally-sponsored and prepared data on the state of jobs at the moment.

To make matters worse, Indian economists have almost been second-guessing on job trends due to lack of authentic data from the Centre. Their estimates of how many jobs are being created in India vary wildly.

Considering the most recent disagreement, Surjit Bhalla of The Observatory Group estimated that 15 million jobs were created in the fiscal year 2017. On the other hand, Mahesh Vyas of the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) stated that the number is barely a tenth of that.

Indian labour market data that is supposed to be prepared by MoSPI is yet to be out. Senior economists have also raised concerns about the comprehensibility of the data.

Therefore, at such a juncture, a report on jobs analyzing the state of jobs after demonetization, which was otherwise believed to have costed a significant number of jobs, not being released, was sure to create suspicion.

However, immediately after the matter surfaced, MoSPI issued a clarification saying, “NSSO is processing the quarterly data for the period July 2017 to December 2018 and the report will be released thereafter.”

What is the procedure of publishing an NSSO report?

The protagonist in the story, the National Statistical Commission is the body responsible for green-flagging all NSSO reports. Once they approve, the report is sent to the ministry for release.

NSSO is a central body that carries out large-scale surveys.

"NSSO survey report not being released in December 2018 is one of the reasons for quitting," Mohanan said.

"We recommended [releasing it] and sent it forward, but it's still not on the website," he added.

MoSPI had a counter to this as well.

The statement on Wednesday said that the members of the NSC had never expressed their concerns in any of the meetings of the Commission in the last few months.

"The concerns were not expressed by the members in any of the meetings of the Commission in the last few months."

The ministry, it further added, values the advice of NSC and takes appropriate action.

What were the other reasons for the resignation?

A fresh controversy erupted on the back series of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Mohanan has alleged that the NSC was not consulted before releasing the back series data on GDP. The release of GDP back series data by NITI Aayog last November created a furore regarding the involvement of Central Statistical Office (CSO) in the preparation of the report.

The back series data had revised the GDP growth rates during the UPA years downward which initiated a political slugfest with both ruling party BJP and Congress harping that their methodology was better than the other.

“We felt sidelined because of Niti Aayog’s additional involvement,” said Mohanan.

After RBI, CBI and the Supreme Court, is this another institutional degradation?

“NSC is yet another public institution that has succumbed to governmental pressure. It was a fairly new agency that was just beginning to build its credibility, which is now in peril,” said Pronab Sen, former chairman of NSC.

He also said that the previous NDA government had appointed the Rangarajan Committee, which went on to recommend the NSC, and the NDA accepted that recommendation. “But it was the UPA government who actually created the NSC; so the body had bipartisan support,” he added.

In 2018, three of India’s premier institutions came in for some sharp public scrutiny.

In an unprecedented move, four senior-most judges of the Supreme Court held a press conference in Delhi, expressing concerns over the allocation of work to judges.

Through 2018, the top investigation agency of the country, the Central Bureau of Investigation, remained embroiled in an internecine battle among its top brass.

And the year ended with Reserve Bank of India governor resigning mid-term.

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| Edited by: Ahona Sengupta
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