Official statistics under a cloud

   By PC Bureau ,  31-Jan-2019
Official statistics under a cloud

The only two non-official members of the National Statistical Commission resign over jobs data.

There is something wrong, very wrong, with the government’s relationship with economic experts. More often than not, they quit before the expiry of their terms. Acting National Statistical Commission (NSC) chairman P.C. Mohanan and member J.V. Meenakshi, the only two non-government members, have resigned quit over “disagreements” with the government on the release of a jobs survey.

It is not the first time that experts have left before the end of their tenures. Niti Aayog vice-chairman Arvind Panagriya left unexpectedly in 2017. Last year, chief economic adviser Arvind Subramaniam and Reserve Bank of India governor Urjit Patel left without completing their terms. Interestingly, all three were appointees of the Narendra Modi government.

Talking to NDTV, Mohanan said that he was “not taken seriously” and felt sidelined. “We found that the commission was not very effective in discharging whatever it was supposed to do,” he said. He also confirmed, NDTV’s website said, that “one of the reasons why he quit was the delay in the release of the National Sample Survey Office's Periodic Labor Force Survey report for 2017-18, which gives data on employment and unemployment.”

Typically, the government has offered arguments that cut little ice. In a press release, it said, “In the wake of resignation by the two Members of the National Statistical Commission, reports from a section of media have suggested that the Members had expressed certain concerns on the functioning of the Commission including release of the labor force survey results and the back series of GDP. These concerns were not expressed by the Members in any of the meetings of the Commission in the last few months. The Ministry of Statistics and Program Implementation not only places a high regard for the Commission but also values its advice and on which appropriate action is taken.”

These assertions raise a number of questions. If these members had no concerns, why did they resign? It is not that they were appointed by the previous government and, by resigning, they were trying to embarrass the government. Both were appointed by the present government in June 2017.

The government says that it “not only places a high regard for the Commission but also values its advice and on which appropriate action is taken.” But, then, why were three of the seven seats, including that of the Chairman, left vacant? Why weren’t jobs data released? If the government can’t give even data on employment, can it be trusted to provide jobs? Were the resigning members and the government on the same page over the back series of GDP? Why take steps that bring official statistics under a cloud?

Too many questions, too few answers.