Unemployment: Why Amitabh Kant and Surjit Bhalla are Wrong -R Ramakumar


The arguments put forward by the two government advocates to disparage the NSSO’s thwarted report only serve to create a smokescreen so that any meaningful debate on unemployment becomes impossible.

In 1965, P. C. Mahalanobis, who founded India’s modern statistical system, wrote a famous article titled “Statistics as a Key Technology” in the journal The American Statistician. One argument in the paper was as follows. Prior to the emergence of science and technology in the western societies over the last four centuries, decisions within most human groups were governed by “the principle of authority”. In other words, “the decision of an authority of higher status must override a decision of an authority of a lower status”.

However, with the advent of modern science after the 16th century, many natural phenomena could be rationally and objectively explained through intensive scientific enquiries. This new tradition of scientific enquiry required a “patient accumulation of facts and observations” as well as the analysis of their complex inter-relationships. In this domain of science, the old “principle of authority” was undermined. Human authority became increasingly unable to challenge the findings arrived at through the scientific method.

Mahalanobis led the establishment of India’s modern statistical system in the 1950s to bring India at par with the western scientific tradition. The understanding of reality in India, he believed, was not a matter to be clinched by administrative sanction or official stamps, but through the application of modern statistics. Thanks to the efforts of Mahalanobis and his successors, India’s newly developed statistical system had considerable professional autonomy (though it might not have had much administrative or financial autonomy). The statistical system enjoyed independence to choose the methodology of its surveys; to decide what should be published on which date; and to approve the results that are published without interference from “authorities”.

Unfortunately, overt government interference in the functioning of official statistical agencies in the last four and a half years would make it appear as if the old “principle of authority” is making a strong return. The government, or its arm, the NITI Aayog, has come to have veto power over the release of statistical data/reports. Alongside, government officials seamlessly replace statistical rigour with anecdotal information; objective evidence with carefully constructed narratives with no evidential basis; and large sample surveys with unverified databases of private cab companies. In other words, there clearly is a collapse of reason.

One case at hand for us is the National Sample Survey Office’s (NSSO) Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS) conducted in 2017-18. The NITI Aayog has applied the “principle of authority” and stopped the release of the PLFS report. The reason cited by advocates of the government – particularly Amitabh Kant (CEO, NITI Aayog), and economist Surjit Bhalla – has been that the PLFS is unscientific in design and not comparable with either the Employment Unemployment Surveys (EUS) of the NSSO conducted till 2011-12 or the EUS of the Labour Bureau conducted till 2015.

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Newsclick.in, 15 April, 2019, https://www.newsclick.in/unemployment-india-NSSO-PLFS-Amitabh-Kant-Surjit-Bhalla?fbclid=IwAR3ab0RSOGcddb8FokYN8o0VewYKUSBD-T101xhu4IWlk0eonPGRNKrB1WE

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