The report of the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) that unemployment stood at a 45-year high in 2017-18 has raised questions over the Modi government’s claim of robust economic growth, as jobs are one of the key indicators of a country’s economic well-being. NSSO is a division of the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation and this is the first official assessment of the employment scenario after demonetisation, which confirms survey reports of other independent agencies like the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy that point to a loss of millions of jobs following Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s highhanded, livelihoods-destroying note ban. While the NSSO report is in itself upsetting, what is more worrying is the Modi government’s attempts to brush the truth under the carpet and instead present a rosy picture on the eve of the Lok Sabha elections. Niti Aayog vice-chairman Rajiv Kumar called the report, finalised as far back as December, only a draft and said the government would release another jobs report by March to show “increase in jobs”.
Unsurprisingly, the acting chairman and a member of the National Statistical Commission resigned over the government’s interference and non-release of the jobs survey report and the re-reworking of backdated GDP data to show that the Modi government had delivered higher growth than the UPA regime. It is important to maintain the integrity of data as they not only present a genuine picture of the current situation, but also enable an objective analysis to facilitate policy course corrections. Underlining this, the World Bank says, “Why do statistics matter? In simple terms, they are the evidence on which policies are built. They help identify needs, set goals, and monitor progress. Without good statistics, the development progress is blind: policy-makers cannot learn from their mistakes and the public cannot hold them accountable.”
That the Modi government has no use for such data in its policymaking and in upholding accountability became clear when it broke the well-established convention of tabling the Economic Survey in Parliament ahead of the Union Budget. The survey details the state of the economy and last year, the then finance minister Arun Jaitley had proudly exclaimed, “Under this government, the Economic Survey has become a must-read and most-read document on Indian economy.” The Modi government should overcome its fear of numbers and confront the brutal fact of its economic performance. Unless it accepts the reality of jobless growth and rampant unemployment, however embarrassing it may be, and takes appropriate corrective measures, evolving a reliable and sustainable growth model for the country will only remain a pipedream.