Development, Economy

Who is afraid of job survey?

The Centre has effectively sounded the death knell for a quarterly employment surveyBy Basant Kumar Mohanty in New Delhi

Union minister Arun Jaitley termed as 'preposterous' suggestions of job losses in the country
Union minister Arun Jaitley termed as ‘preposterous’ suggestions of job losses in the countryPicture by Shutterstock

Finance minister Arun Jaitley had on Tuesday called more than 100 academics “purported economists” and “compulsive contrarians” for issuing an appeal to restore the credibility of economic statistics and described as “preposterous” suggestions of job losses in the country.

Less than 24 hours later, it emerged how the Narendra Modi government was frittering away a golden chance to prove the “compulsive contrarians” and doubters wrong.

The Centre has effectively sounded the death knell for a quarterly employment survey by not clearing the air on its fate in spite of a funding deadline lurking round the corner.

An expert committee, appointed to look into whether it has lost its relevance, had recommended that the survey be discontinued. The quarterly survey was instituted in 2008 during the global downturn, covering establishments engaging over 10 workers in sectors such as manufacturing, construction, trade, transport, IT/BPO, education and health.

Curiously, the committee to review the relevance of the survey was set up in June 2018 after the figures showed that new jobs had remained below 2 lakh in all quarters since July 2016 and the growth was either negative or flat in manufacturing and construction.

In January this year, the committee headed by former chief statistician T.C.A. Anant recommended discontinuation of the quarterly survey as it felt that the “wealth of information” from the database of the Employees’ Provident Fund Organisation (whose figures differed with those of the quarterly survey) “can be used more rigorously….”

However, by then, jobs had become a hot-button political issue and unpalatable questions were being asked about Prime Minister Modi’s pre-election promise to create 2 crore jobs every year.

Since then, a perceived suppression of indigestible statistics and periodical revisions have landed the official statistical machinery in controversies. Against this backdrop and with elections fast approaching, the government appears to have developed cold feet in taking a clear stand on the fate of the quarterly survey.

Concern had begun to grow in the Labour Bureau, a labour ministry wing that conducts the quarterly survey, because the request for funds to carry out the exercise has to be placed by the last week of March.

Unsure whether the survey will survive or not, the Labour Bureau had written to the Union labour ministry two months ago seeking a clarification.

But the labour ministry has not yet responded, sources said. The dithering stands in sharp contrast to the finance minister’s swift and acerbic response in less than five days to the appeal by 108 economists and social scientists to restore integrity to official data.

However, the Labour Bureau has sent a separate proposal for funds for implementing the newly started area frame survey, which gathers job data in informal units employing less than 10 workers in the eight sectors. The ministry is currently processing the proposal for funding for the new survey.

The Labour Bureau spends around Rs 10 crore every year on the quarterly survey. “The service of the surveyors engaged in the quarterly employment survey will end this month. The survey may stop completely from next month,” an official said.

Sources suggested that the government was not averse to dumping the old survey but it may not take any decision until the elections are over.

Not everyone agrees with the recommendation of the committee to scrap the quarterly survey. Santosh Mehrotra, chairperson of the Centre for Informal Sector and Labour Studies in Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), said the data sets from the quarterly employment survey and the EPFO were not comparable.

“The quarterly survey covered both organised and un-organised sectors. The EPFO covers only the organised sector,” Mehrotra said.

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