A day after violence broke out in the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) on Sunday, one of its professors, C P Chandrasekhar, resigned from a government-appointed committee, which was set to hold its first meeting to review India’s economic data.
Last month, the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation set up the Standing Committee on Economic Statistics, led by former chief statistician Pronab Sen, to “review the extant framework relating to data sources, indicators, concepts or definitions and other issues” of the economic data-sets. The panel was created after concerns were raised about “political interference” in the statistical system. Two key statistical reports — one on the job market and the other on consumer spending — had been withheld by the government earlier.
“I was persuaded that this government is not concerned about the robustness of India’s statistical system. The JNU’s incident on Sunday has further undermined the faith in the system. It shows that we are now living in a different world and it’s hard to work with a government in which you have lost faith,” Chandrasekhar told Business Standard over phone on Monday night.
The committee was to hold its first meeting on Tuesday to finalise the Index of Industrial Production (IIP) data for November 2019 and to set the future agenda of the newly formed committee.
Chandrasekhar, who has served on key statistical panels in the past both as a chairman and member, tendered his resignation through an e-mail at around 9 pm on Monday.
“I regret to inform you that, because of the situation in the JNU where I stay, I will be unable to attend tomorrow's meeting. Further, I feel that, under current conditions, this committee is unlikely to be able to restore the credibility of the statistical system, which has been undermined in the recent past,” Chandrasekhar wrote in his e-mail sent to all the committee members.
Early in 2019, the government had withheld the periodic labour force survey which showed the unemployment rate soaring up to a 45-year high of 6.1 per cent in 2017-18. Later, it junked the consumer expenditure survey which showed consumer spending falling for the first time in over 40 years in 2017-18.
“It is unfortunate that political pressures have reduced their autonomy now, and efforts to consolidate a well-designed system are being subverted. In these circumstances, I will not be able to serve on this committee,” he added.
Tensions due to the ongoing protests over fee hike in the JNU escalated on Sunday, when some masked goons entered the campus and assaulted students and faculty with hammers, rods and sticks. They had even entered JNU hostels and vandalised the rooms. The incident also led to the resignation of JNU’s hostel wardens on “moral grounds”.
Chandrasekhar said he was present in the campus when the ruckus broke out and found the incident "disturbing" and "unprecedented".