NDA faces a tough jobs question ahead of polls

  • NSSO data shows joblessness spiking to a 45-year high at 6.1% in 2017-18
  • NITI Aayog sought to play down the NSSO report, claiming it was not final

New Delhi: The Narendra Modi government on Thursday struggled to explain reports of joblessness spiking to a 45-year high at 6.1% in 2017-18, after the publication of a leaked document of the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) reignited the jobless growth debate seen in the United Progressive Alliance era.

The government think tank NITI Aayog sought to play down the report, published in the Business Standard on Thursday, claiming it was not final and could not be compared with surveys of the previous rounds.

Two non-official members of the National Statistical Commission (NSC), including the acting chairman of the apex statistical body P.C. Mohanan, resigned on Tuesday, citing, as one of the reasons, the government’s failure to release the annual Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS) report that they had vetted in December. NSSO, which is overseen by NSC, introduced PLFS in April 2017 to bridge the employment data gap.

NITI Aayog vice-chairman Rajiv Kumar said the report that was cited was not the final version. “It’s a draft report, and the data that is being cited is not yet finalized or approved by the government. So using this data, therefore, is not the right thing to do," he said.

However, asked who else needs to approve the report after NSC, Kumar said he was not sure. “Maybe the cabinet," he added.

Kumar said NSSO would release PLFS reports by March after processing the July-September and October-December quarterly PLFS surveys.

However, the annual and quarterly reports run separately and have different samples. “The results of the PLFS will be brought out in the form of an Annual Key Report, which would contain detailed tables for both rural and urban sectors, and quarterly bulletins, which would contain, for the urban sector, estimates of the changes in key labour force parameters," according to the NSSO website.

K.R. Shyam Sundar, a labour economist and professor at XLRI, Jamshedpur, said authorities were mixing up quarterly data with annual data.

“This is politicization of the statistical system to gain political credibility and earn electoral benefits. I am certain, jobless growth is what we are witnessing now. We saw (it) during the UPA regime and now this NSSO data shows the same for the current government," said Shyam Sundar.

NITI Aayog CEO Amitabh Kant said there are three narratives on jobs. “One is, there is a totally jobless growth in the country; the second narrative is saying that there is a sufficient number of jobs being created; and the third narrative is we are creating jobs but not creating adequate number of good jobs. Quality of jobs is a problem. You cannot be growing at 7.2% and saying that there are no jobs being created in the economy," he said.

Congress president Rahul Gandhi, seeking to score political points ahead of the general elections due by May, tweeted, “(Modi has) promised us 2 Cr (crore) jobs a year. 5 years later, his leaked job creation report card reveals a National Disaster." However, the ruling BJP countered, also on Twitter: “EPFO’s real data shows sharp increase in jobs, created in just the last 15 months".