NSC controversy

Data integrity is of vital importance

The manner in which the government has dealt with the National Sample Survey Office’s (NSSO) periodic labour force survey (PLFS) has left much to be desired. It courted controversy by not releasing the report of the National Statistical Commission (NSC), which resulted in the resignation of the last two non-government members of the Commission, PC Mohanan and JV Meenakshi, a few days ago. The two complained that the government was sidelining the organisation, and pointed out that they had approved the report in December. The suggestion that the survey had found that the country’s unemployment rate was at a 45-year high of 6.1 per cent during 2017-18 has not been convincingly refuted so far. 

Given the political sensitivity of the data that could be a reflection on the impact of demonetisation on the economy, the government should have ensured greater transparency and responsiveness. What it did was the opposite. It referred the report to the NITI Aayog, instead of releasing it, on the specious grounds that the data in the NSSO survey was ‘not verified’. The argument does not cut much ice, and Opposition leaders naturally slammed the government on this issue. The NITI Aayog has yet to come out of the rough patch it found itself in over the delayed release of the GDP back series data. 

The resignation of the NSC members is not the starting point of this avoidable controversy; rather, it is the inflexion point at which the matter has come into the public domain. It is also reflective of the current political atmosphere. The attempt to call the interim Budget a full Budget was another instance of the government’s disconnect with the nuances that ought to govern its conduct. The vacuum left by the lack of officially released data has been filled by what is being termed ‘not verified’ data. The only way to counter that is for the government to release ‘verified data’. The integrity of statistics released by the government must be unimpeachable. A pity that this has to be reiterated.

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