The chairman and an external member of the National Statistical Commission (NSC) have resigned, expressing disappointment over the treatment being meted out by the government.
P C Mohanan, the acting chairman, and member J V Meenakshi resigned on Monday, leaving behind no external members in the Commission. Their tenure was to end in June 2020. They cited withholding of the publication of the National Sample Survey Office’s (NSSO’s) employment survey for 2017-18 and a lack of consultation with the Commission before releasing the backdated gross domestic product (GDP) series last year as some of the key reasons for their resignations.
“We have resigned from the NSC. Over the months, we have been feeling that we were not taken seriously and being sidelined by the government. Recent decisions of the NSC were not being implemented,” Mohanan told Business Standard on Tuesday.
The immediate trigger for the resignations was the delay in releasing the NSSO’s first series of household survey, known as the periodic labour force survey, for 2017-18.
“The members have raised certain issues regarding the functioning of the NSC (in the resignation letter). They, however, did not express any concern in any of the meetings of the Commission in the last few months,” Chief Statistician of India Pravin Srivastava, who is also a member of the NSC, said. “The ministry always values the advice of the Commission and takes action accordingly."
Sources said the NSC had approved the survey report in its meeting held on December 5 in Kolkata and it was supposed to be released by the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation.
“The report was approved and should have been released immediately, but was not. I thought I should not watch silently what was happening,” Mohanan added.
However, almost two months after the approval, the report hasn’t been made public. Srivastava said the NSSO was supposed to come up with annual estimates on labour force, along with quarterly ones in urban areas, and the NSSO would release them after the quarterly survey results for July 2017-December 2018 are processed.
A former member pointed out that the government was uncomfortable with the findings of the NSSO’s household survey. This comes even as the Labour and Employment Ministry has withheld the release of the annual household survey for 2016-17 conducted by the Labour Bureau, despite necessary approvals in place.
The issue of employment has taken centre stage as the campaign to the upcoming general elections gathers momentum. The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government has repeatedly cited lack of numbers on jobs as a bigger problem than job creation itself.
“The NSC was essentially meant to bring about a sense of credibility to the data put out by the National Statistical System and if the NSC feels that it is not being permitted to carry out its functions, then it is entirely appropriate that it resigns,” Pronab Sen, who was the NSC’s chairman between 2013 and 2016, said.
As such, the survey reports of the NSSO need the Commission’s approval and not that of the government, a former NSC member explained. “This mechanism was put in place in 1960s, when a governing council was there, which was replaced by the Commission in 2006,” the member said, requesting anonymity.
The government released GDP back-series through the NITI Aayog in November last year, but did not involve the NSC in the consultation process, which did not go down well with NSC members.
“The government did not take the GDP back-series to the NSC. It is supposed to be the highest body in terms of statistics,” pointed out another former member.
The NSC had released its report on the GDP back-series, which was disowned by the government as just another exercise.
Further, the latest Economic Census was announced by the government but was not brought to the Commission. Also, the NSC was kept out of the release of the National Policy on Official Statistics. “The National Policy on Official Statistics was announced without any reference to the Commission,” said a former member. Former NSC chairman R B Barman said, “Since the NSC is the apex of the system, it should have enough space for being independent.”
About the Commission
The National Statistical Commission (NSC) was set up in 2006 with Prof Suresh D Tendulkar as its first chairman
Role: An autonomous body to evolve policies, priorities and standards in statistical matters; approves statistical reports produced by NSSO
Composition: Seven members (one chairperson, 4 independent members, chief statistician of India, and one ex-officio member)
Present status: Acting chairperson and one independent member resign; two member posts were already vacant. Only two left now — chief statistician, ex-officio member