P C Mohanan and J V Meenakshi: Dissenters who chose to quit over data

P C Mohanan
The man who took up statistics to survive the job scarcity in the 1970s has raked up a political storm over a jobs survey that shows unemployment at a record high. 

P C Mohanan resigned as the acting chairman of the National Statistical Commission (NSC) along with member J V Meenakshi earlier this week to protest against the non-publication of the Periodic Labour Force Survey. 

The report accessed by Business Standard shows that the unemployment rate stood at 6.1 percent, the highest since 1972-73, in the survey conducted between July 2017 and June 2018.

Having dedicated his career solely to data as an Indian Statistical Services officer, it is easy to understand why Mohanan could not take lightly the political meddling in national statistics and the disregard for the apex institution by the current government. 

After his resignation, he said that he could not watch silently being side-lined by the government.

Described as a high-class professional by his former colleagues at the Central Statistics Office, the man of the moment did his masters in statistics from Bangalore University in 1978. 

Mohanan has worked extensively on curating the employment and unemployment surveys besides those on healthcare, literacy migration and others. In the 36 years of service, he participated in field data collection for household surveys , enterprise surveys, agriculture survey and industry surveys at the National Sample Survey Organization (NSSO). 

According to him, data collection has become tougher over the years with people less responsive nowadays.

J V Meenakshi
Statistics happened by chance, with Mohanan taking up the subject only because that would land him a job. There weren’t many career choices then with only a few jobs available, he says.
Mohanan was appointed as a member of NSC till 2020, and was declared acting chairman of Commission after RB Barman’s term finished in July. 

J V Meenakshi is professor of Economics at the premier Delhi School of Economics, and has done extensive research in areas like nutrition and health economics; agricultural markets and food demand and social exclusion. 

She did her PhD from Cornell University in Agricultural Economics and started her career as a visiting scholar at Centre for Development Studies in Thiruvananthapuram.

Mohanan and Meenakshi cited the withholding of the publication of the National Sample Survey Office’s (NSSO’s) employment survey for 2017-18 and a lack of consultation with the Commission before releasing the backdated gross domestic product (GDP) series last year as some of the key reasons for their resignations.

With the issue of employment taking centre stage as the campaign to the upcoming general elections, the duos’ resignation months before polls has created considerable controversy in the public discourse and upheaval in the Lok Sabha. 

The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government has repeatedly cited lack of numbers on jobs as a bigger problem than job creation itself.

The government released GDP back-series through the NITI Aayog in November last year, but did not involve the NSC in the consultation process, which did not go down well with NSC members. Besides, they claim that the Economic Census was launched without involving the NSC. 

Their resignations are the most telling rebuke yet of the NDA’s politicisation of national statistics from within the establishment. 

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