Tinkering with Statistics: The Resignation of Two NSC Members

On January 28, two independent members of the National Statistical Commission (NSC), P C Mohanan and J V Meenakshi, resigned over the disagreements with the Narendra Modi government on various issues. P C Mohanan is a former member of the Indian Statistical Service and J V Meenakshi is a professor at the Delhi School of Economics. Mr Mohanan was also the acting chairperson of NSC. The two members quit NSC citing the reason of sidelining them in key decisions such as the release of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) back series data, launch of the new economic census and delay in publishing the employment/unemployment report for 2016-17. The NSC, under the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation (MoSPI), is the apex advisory body on statistical matters, and was set up by the government of India on 1 June, 2005 on the recommendation of the Rangarajan commission. The NSC is to have seven members, but three posts were already vacant. With the resignation of the two independent members, the NSC now has only two government members – Chief Statistician Pravin Srivastava and NITI Aayog CEO Amitabh Kant. The incident has brought to the fore the question of autonomy of public institutions in India.

The first major issue is the calculation of the GDP back series data. “The proper way would have been for the Ministry to have put this back series in front of the Commission… They were not consulted at all… it was NITI Aayog that spearheaded the release and not the Commission”, one member said [1]. The GDP back series, released in November last year, adjusted the GDP figures for the period using new methodology with the base year as FY-2012. As per the new data released by the Central Statistics Office (CSO), the Indian economy grew at an average of 6.67% in the nine years ending 31 March, 2014 when the UPA was in power, which is slower than the 7.35% growth rate achieved in the four years ending 31 March, 2018, with Narendra Modi as the prime minister [2]. It also shows that the highest growth rate the Indian economy has achieved so far is 8.5% in 2010-11, against the 10.3% estimated earlier [2]. Moreover, the new series highlighted that the contribution of the services sector was over-estimated earlier and now it has been revised down.

Another major reason of the conflict between the NSC members and the government is the delay in releasing the National Sample Survey Office’s (NSSO) Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS) report for July 2017-June 2018 (i.e. post demonetization and GST implementation). The NSSO data is collected through nation-wide household surveys on various socio-economic subjects. As per reports, even though the NSSO data was approved by the NSC in December 2018, it has not been made public by the government so far. However, the publication of leaked data from the withheld NSSO report by the media brought to the light the gravity of the employment crisis in India. The leaked report shows that the unemployment rate in the country as per the usual status (the activity status of persons on the basis of the reference period of a year) was at 6.1% in 2017-18, while, as per the current weekly status (CWS), the unemployment rate stood at an alarming 8.9% [3]. The corresponding figures were 7.8% and 9.6% in urban areas, and 5.3% and 8.5% in rural areas, respectively. Moreover, the unemployment rate among the youth (between the ages of 15-29 years) was considerably high. But, the labour force participation rate (LFPR) was low at 36.9%, indicating that more people were withdrawing from the workforce, especially women [3]. The government also tried to manipulate the data based on payroll data sourced from the Employees Provident Fund Organisation (EPFO), Pension Fund Regulatory and Development Authority (PFRDA) and the Employees State Insurance Corporation (ESIC) to project an increase in the number of jobs in the past four years [4]. A representative of the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) said that “This is the highest unemployment rate we’ve seen in 15 months… The climb to 7.4% also indicates that the small fall in the unemployment rate seen in November was possibly an aberration in a trend that indicates a steady increase in the unemployment rate”. He further added that “In December 2018, an estimated 397 million were employed. This is nearly 11 million less than the employment estimate for December 2017” [4].

The Narendra Modi government is trying to undermine the gravity of the concerns of the resigned members by claiming that the data is only in draft form. The government is trying to withhold the report in view of the forthcoming Lok Sabha election. The publication of data, though, would suggest that the unemployment record has been the worst in the last 45 years [3]. However, we should not forget the electoral promise of the NDA in 2014 about the creation of 10 million jobs; and now the leaked report shows the situation of burgeoning job crisis.




[1] Raghavan, T.C.A.S. (2019, January 30). Two remaining National Statistical Commission members resign. Retrieved February 23, 2019, from The Hindu: https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/2-remaining-nsc-members-resign/article26122815.ece

[2] Mishra, A.R. (2019, January 30). NSC members resign after row over NSSO employment report. Retrieved February 23, 2019, from Livemint: https://www.livemint.com/news/india/nsc-members-resign-after-row-over-nsso-employment-report-1548778444218.html

[3] Editorials (2019, February 9). Data in Peril? Retrieved February 23, 2019, from Economic & Political Weekly: https://www.epw.in/journal/2019/6/editorials/data-peril.html

[4] Gupta, R. (2019, January 30). Two Members Of National Statistical Commission Quit After Govt Fails To Publish Report On Employment. Retrieved February 23, 2019, from The Logical Indian: https://thelogicalindian.com/news/national-statistical-commission-modi-government/

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