‘The jobs re­port can­not be called a draft, it is fi­nal once I ap­prove it’

Mint ST - - FRONT PAGE - Nid­heesh M.K. nid­[email protected] KOZHIKODE mint

P.C. Mohanan re­signed as act­ing chair­man of the Na­tional Sta­tis­ti­cal Com­mis­sion (NSC) last month in protest against the gov­ern­ment al­legedly sup­press­ing the re­lease of the un­em­ploy­ment sur­vey con­ducted by the Na­tional Sam­ple Sur­vey Of­fice (NSSO).

A leaked copy of the re­port re­vealed that In­dia’s un­em­ploy­ment rate spiked to a 45-year high of 6.1% in 2017-18, leav­ing gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials scram­bling to con­tain the fall­out of its dam­ag­ing con­tent. The find­ings of the re­port are all the more cru­cial be­cause the Naren­dra Modiled Bharatiya Janata Party swept to power in 2014 with the prom­ise of creat­ing 10 mil­lion jobs an­nu­ally. The ex­pose by the Busi­ness Stan­dard news­pa­per also pro­vided fod­der to op­po­si­tion par­ties just months ahead of na­tional elec­tions.

The gov­ern­ment re­sponded to the storm by terming the re­port a draft and, even, a fake.

In an in­ter­view, Mohanan dis­missed the gov­ern­ment’s claims, say­ing the re­port was fi­nal once the com­mis­sion had cleared it. The episode has given an im­pres­sion to the pub­lic that the gov­ern­ment is try­ing to sup­press un­com­fort- able data, he added. Edited ex­cerpts:

In­dia’s statis­tics min­is­ter Sadananda Gowda told Par­lia­ment last week that re­ports of the un­em­ploy­ment rate touch­ing 6.1% in the NSSO sur­vey is fake. Hav­ing headed the sur­vey, how do you re­act? I per­son­ally can­not agree. The NITI Aayog (a gov­ern­ment think tank) was the first to say that it’s a draft re­port. Once I ap­prove it, how is it a draft re­port? The NITI Aayog CEO (Amitabh Kant) gave some rea­son why this is not com­pa­ra­ble, which is also mis­lead­ing. When we ap­prove a re­port, I am not go­ing to give a fig­ure which is not com­pa­ra­ble with the other ones. Se­cond, the con­cept of em­ploy­ment and un­em­ploy­ment are uni­ver­sally ac­cepted. In­ter­na­tional Labour Or­ga­ni­za­tion pre­scribes the stan­dards, we all fol­low it.

The gov­ern­ment also keeps talk­ing about col­lect­ing and pro­cess­ing the quar­terly data from July to De­cem­ber 2018. Do you ex­pect this to be

IN­TER­VIEW

ur­ban. In In­dia, you don’t ex­pect too many changes in an­nual em­ploy­ment from the quar­ter. We don’t give peo­ple un­em­ploy­ment al­lowance or se­cu­rity. And many peo­ple are em­ployed in the gov­ern­ment sec­tor. So, quar­ter to quar­ter changes may not be that much and the an­nual data will have no re­la­tion with the quar­terly. Walk us through what hap­pened in your life since Novem­ber last year, when things started get­ting sour be­tween you and the gov­ern­ment

In Novem­ber, we sud­denly found that the NITI Aayog was tak­ing the lead and an­nounc­ing the GDP back se­ries data. It has never hap­pened. All these sta­tis­ti­cal re­leases are done by the Cen­tral Sta­tis­ti­cal Of­fice, min­istry of statis­tics or the NSSO. You can’t in­volve an out­side agency like NITI Aayog; it is a po­lit­i­cal body. World over, there is talk about in­de­pen­dence of of­fi­cial statis­s­ri­vas­tava, tics. So, we all ob­jected, say­ing the process of get­ting an agency like NITI Aayog was not cor­rect. And then, on this par­tic­u­lar re­port, NSSO was un­der high pres­sure. NSSO was sup­posed to re­lease the re­port in De­cem­ber. We have an ad­vi­sory com­mit­tee that con­tains ex­perts in em­ploy­ment, ex­perts in sam­pling, etc. They cleared the re­port on 4 De­cem­ber, so im­me­di­ately on the 5th when we met, we thor­oughly dis­cussed it and ap­proved it. Mil­lions of data were pro­cessed to pro­duce those tables. Once we of­fi­cially say this is ap­proved by NSC, it is the di­rec­tor gen­eral of the NSSO who re­leases the re­port. He writes and signs the pref­ace and drafts a press re­lease and they put it on the web­site. I’m told they have com­pleted all those pro­cesses ex­cept putting it on the web­site. So, it is ap­proved of­fi­cially but not made avail­able to the pub­lic. I tried ask­ing the sec­re­tary to the depart­ment, who is also the chief statis­ti­cian, Praveen why it is so, but didn’t get a sat­is­fac­tory re­ply. I my­self and an­other mem­ber then trav­elled to Delhi. He was not com­mit­ted about when to re­lease. This was the last straw.

Pre­vi­ously, when the min­istry pre­pared a na­tional pol­icy on statis­tics, they did not tell us. They cir­cu­lated the pol­icy and tried to get a cab­i­net ap­proval. We protested say­ing it is the com­mis­sion not the min­istry which should be bring­ing the pol­icy. Un­der guide­lines for con­duct­ing any cen­sus or sur­vey any min­istry un­der the gov­ern­ment of In­dia, the com­mis­sion’s ap­proval is re­quired. This gives a wrong im­pres­sion to the pub­lic that the gov­ern­ment is not re­leas­ing data which are not com­fort­able for them.

Your res­ig­na­tion in protest can be viewed as po­lit­i­cal prej­u­dice. How do you re­spond?

I dis­cussed with some of my peo­ple, some of the top­most fig­ures in the aca­demic world, on what to do next. The op­tions for me were very few. One op­tion was to keep quiet and con­tinue. I didn’t want to do that. An­other was to re­main in the com­mis­sion and write let­ters of protest and all that. But that also may not have the de­sired ef­fect. The gov­ern­ment may not bother to re­spond to the let­ters for as long as they want. The last op­tion was to re­sign, which I thought would be the right thing to do. I did not worry too much of the con­se­quences, but I knew that it will be seen as a po­lit­i­cal act. It is a pur­pose­ful stand I took.

NID­HEESH M.K.

P.c.mohanan.

NID­HEESH M.K.

Mohanan said he didn’t wish to be quiet and con­tinue.

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