‘Our objective was to maintain autonomy of statistics’

P.C. Mohanan, former acting chairman of National Statistical Commission (NSC), poses after his interview with Reuters at in New Delhi, India, February 2, 2019. Picture taken February 2, 2019. REUTERS/Devjyot Ghoshal

P C Mohanan, whose resignation as the acting chairman of National Statistical Commission last month created a stir as it questioned the government’s intention to bring out a clean job’s data in the public domain, says if the government applies the same methodology as NSSO, there is no question of the unemployment rate falling below 6% in 2017-18. The government has held the report for want of more data. Mohanan believes it is a final report and there is no need for more data. He speaks to Annapurna Singh of DH at length on issues related to his resignation and the data in question. Excerpts.

Govt maintains 5-6% unemployment is not very big for a country as vast as India?

When we compare with many developed countries, 6% is not a big number. For a large country like India, even 1% means a lot. Even 1% unemployment renders 13 crore people jobless. 

However, an increase in the number of unemployed in so many years is not surprising because, in the past, people scarcely reported unemployment. In 1960, the NSSO itself had said that there was no point in doing a survey because the unemployment rates were so very low from the surveys. Most of the workforce was engaged in agriculture or some such small time job and therefore they did not report unemployed. Now, with the spread of education, including women’s education, it is quite likely that the workforce is looking for more formal employment and decent jobs. So that way an increase in the number of unemployed is not very surprising.

The Niti Aayog said it was not fair to compare 2017-18 with that of 45 years ago?

There is no problem in comparing two data sets if definition, concept and the reference period used in the two surveys are the same. In the present case, these are fine and safe for comparison.

When an economy grows at 7-8%, it has to create jobs. What went wrong in India’s case?

That is true, but you have to see which are the sectors that are growing. They are not manufacturing or labour intensive ones. The ones which are growing basically include capital-based activities. Secondly, in India, substantial employment comes from the informal sector, which has a very low contribution to the GDP. Many developed countries have a direct relationship between employment and GDP because most of their employment is in the formal sector. Here, most of it is in the informal sector. So, that kind of a connection between employment and GDP is not possible. Our employment numbers come once in five years, while in the developed countries they have quarterly employment and GDP figures and that is why it matches more with the GDP. And it is possible to establish a correlation between employment and GDP. In India, we do not have very high-frequency numbers on employment.

Now, if the govt comes with new jobs data, which is lower than that projected in the NSSO report, will you come into open once again to defend the original NSSO data in public interest?

The rules of the race are generally set before the race has begun, not after that. Likewise, in the NSSO, the procedure for deriving the results are drawn before the data comes. And anybody following the same procedure has to come to the same conclusion and not any other conclusion with that data. You cannot decide the methodology after the data has already landed with you. And, the data as you know, has been collected.

Niti Aayog vice chairman had said that the unemployment data is not 6% and it is much less than that...

If they go by the procedures of NSSO, they will get the same result.

Why do you think, joblessness acquired such a proportion? What must have contributed to it?

NSSO did a survey on unincorporated sectors in 2010-11, 2015-16. Now, these surveys showed that the unincorporated sector, which is small and micro ones, had not been growing and the employment was not happening.

Then, there was a decline in women’s participation in employment for more than 10 years, especially the rural women from the NSSO employment surveys of the past. So, the decline in work participation is not surprising. Joblessness is bound to go up when you have more educated men and women as is the case now.

What was your main concern before you decided to quit?

Our basic objective was to maintain the autonomy and independence of official statistics. Employment was not an issue over which we quit. Employment growth is not my concern. That is for the policymakers and the government to worry about. My concern is actually that employment should be measured based on scientific parameters and the outcome should be made available to the public.

Let people have a debate over the data. They can accept or find fault with the data. But that can happen only if the report is there in the public domain.

NSSO survey pertains to the period?

It is a series of survey started in 2017-18 and the quarterly results will come only by March or April 2019. There will also be comparable data for the same quarter last year so that one can compare quarter-on-quarter numbers as that of GDP.

2016 Demonetisation had an impact on jobs?

The survey was not designed to oversee the impact of demonetisation. For that one has to conduct a totally different survey. This survey can only give you an idea of the level of employment or unemployment.

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‘Our objective was to maintain autonomy of statistics’

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