New Delhi: The government’s latest payroll data sourced from the Employees’ Provident Fund Organisation (EPFO) points towards the fact that earlier growth numbers may have been exaggerated.

In April, when the centre first released the jobs data, it said that between September 2017 and February 2018, India had created 3.11 million jobs. In May, the revised estimates put the number at 3.32 million, but in June this was revised down to 2.95 million. Now, analysis of the latest monthly data released in July shows the number is further down to 2.68 million.

The Narendra Modi-led government’s effort to weave a positive narrative around the jobs report card was seen as a bid to counter the perception that it had failed to live up to its promise of creating 10 million jobs each year. But the frequent revisions have prompted analysts to question the government’s narrative in the run-up to the 2019 general election.

Additionally, there is the issue of whether new payroll additions should be considered as new jobs or just formalization of existing jobs. There is also the unresolved issue of which age group should be considered for calculating net job creation in the country—across all age groups (18-59) or just the 18-25 one.

Though the government has released payroll data for the last nine months—September 2017 to May 2018—the ministry of statistics says that the data for recent months is provisional.

Now that the monthly data is also being revised, it leads to further doubts about the exercise. The September job creation number was pegged at 435,283 in April; in May it was revised to 579,089, in June to 543,176, and in July to 529,432. The number for March has been revised thrice since May, from 613,134 to 368,123 in July, a drop of over 40%. Similarly, the jobs data for each month since September has been revised as many as four times.

There is the issue of whether new payroll additions should be taken as new jobs or just formalization of existing jobs-

The government claims that the “information is based on the number of subscribers and, as the scheme provides for earlier payments, the table reflects a dynamic status". EPFO has mandated all establishments under it to submit the PF deductions by the 15th of every month, while the government releases payroll data 50 days after the deadline.

“We are looking into the matter…a new system is in place and it will become stronger with time," said a senior labour ministry official, adding that companies may not be keeping EPFO up to date about their retired and dismissed employees’ list.

The debate on jobs has heated up in recent months with political parties using employment as a weapon to counter each other in discussions inside as well as outside Parliament.

The months leading to the 2019 general election are expected to see heightened interest in employment generation numbers, more so when 12 million people are entering the labour market every year.

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