Indian statistics, whether it is regarding GDP growth or unemployment or poverty levels, are now in question worldwide. The ‘base years’ for calculations have changed too frequently in recent times. The ministry and the independent commissions (like the National Statistical Commission, NSC or the National Sample Survey Office, NSSO) have come into conflict and, as in the judiciary or the RBI and CBI, there have been protests and resignations.
When one of the newspapers carried the latest reports on the alarming rise in unemployment (the report said it was highest in 45 years) the government tried to dismiss it as a ‘draft’. The timings of the release (election is round the corner) may be questioned; but the delays and the ‘hums and haws’ of the government make the intentions suspicious. Is the government trying to tamper with figures?
The acting chairman of NSC who resigned said in a recent media interview that the report released cannot be a draft since he had signed the report after discussions with the members of the NSC. He described Niti Ayog as an outsider and a ‘political body’ interfering with the figures prepared by the autonomous organisations. He said that the report on unemployment was prepared according to the rules laid down by the International Labour Organisation (ILO). Why should the government tamper with it? He asked.
The chairman however admits there have been changes in methods and surveys. He says that western countries have quarterly data on employment. But in India, we have quarterly data on GDP but not on employment. The NSC had introduced quarterly data on employment this year. If the government intended to ‘suppress’ uncomfortable data, then why introduce these changes at all? The chairman who resigned also said that the ministry had prepared a new policy on statistics and even tried to pass it through the cabinet without even informing the commission. The NSC had protested. The conflict therefore is very obvious.
At the ground level however the employment scene is a matter of real concern, that goes well beyond mere statistics. A recent university survey reveals that in the job market a higher education degree often leads to nowhere. This raises another serious question – is the education system really making the students job-worthy? In many states, post graduates and PhDs are still applying for low level government jobs. The university report says that 55 million people in the labour force hold a graduate degree, of which 9 million are without jobs. Well-educated unemployed are thrice the national average.
On the other hand, reports show that hiring at the top IT firms has risen fourfold in 2018. The five top IT firms have hired 99000 employees last year. This shows that skills are the right answer to the unemployment problem, not unemployment subsidies. Even NREGA needs accountability: are the funds being used properly for building infrastructure? The education system and unemployment are umbilically linked; we need a structural change.
But coming back to statistics, let us not be fools enough to lose the global credibility regarding facts and figures.
While we push through development, let the political leaders admit failures, accept the sanctity of facts and not fudge figures. Let the media too not be deceived by figures generated through political propaganda. It is already immersed deep in fake news.