Under attack over "suppressing" a report that showed the unemployment rate at a 45-year high, the government on Thursday fielded NITI Aayog Vice Chairman Rajiv Kumar and CEO Amitabh Kant for damage control and they claimed that the data was still not finalised and will be released when "verified" and ready.
The fire-fighting attempt by the duo followed reports that the government withheld the National Sample Survey Organisation's (NSSO) first 'Annual Survey on Employment and Unemployment' for the year 2017-18, an issue on which two external members --acting Chairman P.C. Mohanan and J. V. Meenakshi -- resigned.
While Kumar said the data in the leaked report was not comparable to earlier surveys on employment due to a change in the methodology as well as data collection, Kant added that there was enough evidence to show jobs had been created during the period.
The report, which the government had withheld from being released and was accessed by the 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.
Leading the government's defence on the issue, NITI Aayog Vice Chairman said the country could not have experienced a growth of 7 per cent if unemployment had been on the rise.
Describing the leaked report as a draft which was yet to be finalised and the jobs data still being processed, he said: "The confusion is being created by those using a job report which has been leaked and has not been finalised."
He said the new survey was being prepared with a different methodology and was being done on a quarterly basis, and it would be incorrect to make a comparison with the 2011-12 data when the survey was done once in five years and the sample size was smaller.
"It is not right to compare the two data sets, this data is not verified. It is not correct to use this report as final... The reason why the report has not been released is that it is not right to publish the report in an incomplete manner," Kumar said.
He added that the government was planning to release the report in March after the data for the July-September and October-December quarters was processed and incorporated to give a clear picture of the change in job growth.
"Unless you get the quarter-on-quarter data, you cannot estimate the change... Since this is a new way of data collection which has never been done before, verification on quarter-on-quarter basis is also essential," he added.
NITI Aayog CEO Kant said India could not be growing at 7.2 per cent if no jobs were being created.
"To my mind, the major problem is the lack of quality jobs."
He said while the government was creating enough jobs for new entrants, there was a need to take into account those who were leaving low productivity jobs in agriculture for better ones.
"The country needs roughly about 7 million jobs. Our own internal analysis shows we are creating 7.8 million jobs. A whole lot of people are exiting low productivity jobs in agriculture. Aspirational people want better paying jobs," he said.
The job data is significant because it would have been the first comprehensive assessment impact of demonetisation on employment.