Amid the row over the alleged suppression or window dressing of economic data by the Modi government, NITI Aayog vice-chairman Rajiv Kumar said the think tank would step in and seek a ‘formal role’ for itself to improve the quality of data.
“One of the principal mandates of the NITI Aayog should be to improve the quality of the data in the system,” Kumar told FE in an interview, dismissing the criticism about the think tank’s involvement in the alleged vetting and release of various sets of data.
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Stating that the “whole narrative that there is job loss in the economy is bogus”, he added that if that is the finding of the NSSO Survey, even that should be questioned when the report is finally released.
The Planning Commission, the predecessor of the NITI Aayog, used to involve itself in data releases, Kumar said, adding that this was a regular feature under the then Commission deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia.
As the GDP back series data (with 2011-12 as base year) were released recently jointly by Kumar and chief statistician Pravin Srivastava, many experts, including former chairman of the National Statistical Commission Pronab Sen, questioned the Niti Aayog’s ‘unusual move’ and said it would set a bad precedent. It should be the prerogative of the Central Statistics Organisation to prepare and release the national income statistics as well as other economic data such as IIP, CPI and undertake the employment survey, among other surveys, they felt.
The GDP back series data showed lower economic growth than reported earlier for the UPA era.
Kumar’s comment assumes importance in the backdrop of recent controversy over the National Sample Survey Organisation’s leaked employment data which, according to reports, suggested unemployment rate touched a four-decade high of 6.1% in FY18. Kumar had earlier said that the periodic labour force survey (PLFS) report of the NSSO was yet to be finalised and that it (what got reported) was a draft report.
The NSSO jobs data is likely to be released by the government by end-March. Kumar said he wasn’t privy to the updated data but added that he suspected that it might not have captured the informal sector jobs in the last five years. “Truck sales of 36 lakh per year is reported and each truck generates at least two jobs. There are many such examples of data that might not have been captured. Similarly, many people who are self-employed or doing low-profile jobs might have been reported as unemployed, he added.
Commenting on the policy rate cut by 25 basis points by the Reserve Bank of India on Thursday, Kumar said, “Budget has given an impetus to consumption demand and the RBI has given a fillip to investment demand by cutting rates.” In its inflation forecast, RBI substantially lowered the forecast to 3.2-3.4% range for H1FY20, from 3.8-4.2% previously, and expects a rate of 3.9% for Q3FY20. In the Budget presented on February 1, the Centre announced an income support scheme for small and marginal farmers as well as a full tax rebate for people earning up to `5 lakh/annum. Kumar said the Centre would partly fund the `75,000-crore/annum income support scheme with the help of higher disinvestment receipts and direct tax as well as higher goods and services tax receipts next year.