Despite various people in the government, including the prime minister, citing data from the EPFO to show that India’s formal sector employment growth has been quite robust over the past one year.
Despite various people in the government, including the prime minister, citing data from the EPFO to show that India’s formal sector employment growth has been quite robust over the past one year, there are few takers for this since the data runs counter to many other economic indicators such as, for instance, consumer spending; if employment growth is so robust, for instance, it is difficult to explain why consumer spending remains so sluggish. And even if the EPFO has managed to eliminate the duplication that it is known for—several people have 3-4 EPFO accounts—by seeding its subscriber data with Aadhaar numbers, there is no way of knowing if the ‘new’ subscribers in EPFO are people who have just come into the labour force or whether they are people who worked in smaller firms which have expanded and have now come under the ambit of the EPFO; alternately, they could have been in units that had to register themselves with the EPFO since, after demonetisation and GST, they had no option but to report their data more honestly.
Fortunately, help is at hand and, starting October, the government will be releasing data from the latest National Sample Survey (NSS) Employment-Unemployment round that sampled employment data from the period July 2017 to June 2018. This data cannot immediately be used to get estimates on the growth in employment in the year, but it will provide an absolute number of jobs in 2017-18. Then, based on the sample frame created, there will be an annual survey for rural areas and a quarterly one for urban areas which can then be used for estimating annual growth.
In the same way that the NSS data will serve as an independent fact-check to official data on employment, the NSS has been a valuable tool for researchers on leakages in welfare payments in the past. So, for instance, researchers would study NSS data on what proportion of people availed of subsidised food from ration shops and then contrast this with the claims made by the food ministry; ditto for employment created by government programmes like MGNREGA. It is time to now extend this to other areas where the government is now directing its spending. Several crore individuals have, for instance, been covered by various insurance schemes such as for crops, and even life and accident insurance.
While there is official data, albeit with a big lag in several cases, on how these schemes are faring, should NSS rounds now incorporate questions on these schemes, it will help corroborate official data. In the case of agriculture insurance, for instance, neither the government nor the insurance companies put out timely data on what kind of claims have been made and what proportion of them have been accepted. And now, with 23 states deciding to adopt a trust model to deliver free health services to several crore families, the data on the scheme’s operations will need to be corroborated.
Once again, NSS data will come in handy. Ideally, researchers in the NSS need to reexamine the questions they ask so that an independent fact-check can exist for as many as possible of the government assertions, or at least those for the bigger schemes.