P.C. Mohanan, the acting chairman of the National Statistical Commission and a retired career statistician, and J.V. Meenakshi, a professor at the Delhi School of Economics — resigned on Monday, January 28, protesting against the decisions that have rendered the commission “ineffective”. “There were not only one or two issues. The commission was being bypassed by the ministry on a number of other issues as well,” said Mohanan. The officers asserted, “We have resigned from the NSC. Over the months, we have been feeling that we were not taken seriously and were being side-lined by the government. Recent decisions of the NSC were not being implemented.”
Former chairman of the NSC, Pronab Sen said, “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.”
According to the NSC website, the tenures of the officers were supposed to end in June 2020. Following the resignations, the NSC now has only two members - Chief Statistician Pravin Srivastava and NITI Aayog CEO Amitabh Kant, even though the commission should have seven members. With the resignation of the officers, it has become evident that the Narendra Modi government didn’t consult or bypassed the NSC in at least four instances over the past year.
The latest trigger for the members was the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) employment and unemployment report for the 2017-18 fiscal that has been withheld by the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation. The report would have highlighted the job losses in the year immediately after demonetisation of high value notes in November 2016.
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The NSC has full technical oversight over NSSO reports and had approved the employment survey report called the ‘periodic labour force survey’, in its meeting held on December 5 in Kolkata and sent it to the ministry for release. “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. But even after two months, the report hasn’t been made public.
The NSSO was supposed to come up with annual estimates on labour force, along with quarterly ones in urban areas, which would be released after the quarterly survey results for July 2017-December 2018 are processed. In an attempt to save face, the statistics ministry clarified that it was "processing" the quarterly data and the report would be released after that. It also claimed that the two members had never voiced their concern in the past few months.
The lack of consultation with the Commission before releasing the backdated gross domestic product (GDP) series last year is also perhaps a key reason for their resignations.
With the resignations, the Modi government is being cornered by the opposition as well. Congress leader P Chidambaram said today that one more venerable institution has "died" due to the government's "malicious negligence".