Former Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha on Thursday hit out at the Modi government over non-disclosure of the the National Statistical Commission (NSC) report that claimed that the unemployment rate was at the highest in last 45 years and said that it was a "very serious" issue as it was for the first time in the country's history that a government "is interfering and manipulating data".
He said with resignation of two members of the National Statistical Commission (NSC), the body has become defunct because it has only two official members and ex-officials have left.
"This (non-disclosure of the report) is a very serious issue for at least those who understand that this is the first time in our history that a government is interfering with and manipulating data. And the latest is the most shoddy example of this," he told IANS in an interview.
His remarks came after the report, which the government had withheld from being released and accessed by Business Standard newspaper, said the unemployment rate was 6.1 per cent in 2017-18, post-demonetisation, and was at its highest level since 1972-73 -- the period since when the jobs data is comparable.
NSC acting chief P.C. Mohanan and his colleague J. Meenakshi, who were unhappy over the non-publication of the job data that had been due for release in December last year, resigned in protest on Tuesday.
Sinha said even before this NSC controversy, the country saw the "spectacle" of the back series growth rates where the government appointed the Committee under Sudipto Mondal who is an expert to work out the back series.
"And when they worked out the GDP growth series, which showed that UPA had done better than the present regime, then it was withdrawn. And the NITI Aayog, which has nothing to do with data and statistics, was asked to study those figures.
He alleged that the NITI Aayog then "revised these figures, manipulated those figures and came out with other set of figures which showed that starting with the (former Prime Minister Atal Bihari) Vajpayee years and under this government India has recorded highest growth rate in the five years of this government". They did not beleive it," he said.
Referring to the unemployement issue, he said first it was demonetisation followed by a "flawed" goods and services tax that had a "tremendous impact" on the economy especially on the agriculture, the informal sector like construction and the MSME sectors. "These three sectors were very badly hit, not so much like the corporate organised sector."
He said specialised centres of production such as Noida, Tirupur, Agra and many such centres spread across the country had to retrench labour because it was not worthwhile for them to carry out business they were doing and many of these people who were employed went home.
"We had an anecdotal evidence but there were no hard evidence which would have been collected to prove the point. So, the government kept on challenging us and saying that it is not true," he said.
Sinha said that other anecdotal evidence which was available was the budgetary allocation for MGNREGA (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act).
"The budgetary allocation went up from Rs 55,000 crore to almost Rs 65,000 crore and even that was inadequate to meet the demands. So why did the demand under MGNREGA suddenly go up? Because people went back home and were prepared to work as manual labourers and earn something," he said.
Sinha said all their arguments were rejected by the government. "They kept telling people that everything was fine until this data came. Now, quite clearly, this has demolished the government's case of employment generation and presented a very, very dismal picture."
Referring to the leaked report of NSC, he said that despite labour participation in the market delcining over the years, "even then we have a picture where it has gone up to 6.1 per cent joblessness" and it "confirms the story that this Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy had come out with a report saying that there was a loss of 11 million jobs in 2018 alone.
"This is the reason why the government did not allow this data to come out, which led to the resignation of the only two official members in the Statistical Commission."
Sinha said the NSC was set up during ther early UPA (United Progressive Alliance)-I years.
"When I was the Finance Minister I was not satisfied with the way data was collected. We appointed an expert Committee under Rangarajan to study the whole system of data collection, storage, dissemination in our country and suggest the steps to suit the whole system. He gave his report, then this report was studied by the government and finally this NSC was set up, from where these two members have resigned.
He also said that the Labour Bureau, which publishes quarterly data of employment generation, was stopped from doing that work.
Sinha also said that the Standing Committee of Finance had asked for a report from Ministry of Agriculture on impact of demonetisation on agriculture.