The problem with cherry-picking data -Arun Kumar
If it’s the government’s case that NSSO figures are suspect, what has it based policy decisions on?
Minister of State for Housing and Urban Affairs Hardeep Singh Puri said last week, “we definitely have a data crisis,” and blamed academics for creating a “false narrative”. Yet, at the heart of the data crisis in India is the Central government, which has been holding back important data. Most recently, it did not announce the data on employment created by the ‘Mudra’ scheme. Earlier, the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) data on employment were withheld. Data on farm suicides have not been available since 2016. Data are being withheld precisely where experts have flagged problems, such as on employment, farmers’ crisis and economic growth.
Clashing with reality
The NSSO data (which have not been released officially) undermine the National Democratic Alliance government’s claims on job creation. In fact, they showed massive unemployment. Demonetisation and the implementation of the goods and services tax, both of which undermined the unorganised sector which employs 94% of the workforce, have impacted employment. Data from the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) and others have confirmed the loss of jobs. The NSSO and CMIE data are based on household surveys which capture any additional employment created by Mudra loans, tax aggregators, e-commerce, etc. Basically, jobs are being lost so that the net effect is a decline in employment.
The government had promised doubling of farm incomes by 2022. But, farmers’ incomes have come under pressure due to falling farm produce prices and rising input costs. This got aggravated by demonetisation, with cash shortages in rural areas compelling farmers to sell at lower prices to the traders to get cash. Data on farmer suicides have not been released on schedule even though the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) collects them annually.
The government has implicitly admitted that there is a crisis in the farming and unorganised sectors, and due to that in employment generation. That is why it announced an annual ?6,000 support to farmers owning up to five acres of land and promised insurance to workers in the unorganised sector. It has also increased allocations for the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) from ?55,000 crore to ?60,000 crore. This allocation is inadequate, but it does indicate that the government is forced to acknowledge the crisis facing the poor.
To counter the argument of a crisis facing large segments of the population, the government first tried to discredit alternative arguments and then changed its stance to say that data on the unorganised sector employment were bad. In the process, it discredited its own agency’s data.
But the data on employment put out by NSSO have been used for long. Was that all incorrect also? If so, policy formulation based on that faulty (or non-existent) data was also incorrect. It would render suspect not only the policies of past governments, but even this government’s.
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The Hindu, 24 April, 2019, https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/the-problem-with-cherry-picking-data/article26925274.ece?homepage=true