January 30, 2019 / 3:07 PM / 21 days ago

India watchdog members quit over jobs data dispute

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - The acting chairman and another member of a body that checks the quality of India’s official data have resigned in protest at a delay in releasing jobs statistics as the economy comes under the spotlight before an election.

FILE PHOTO: India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi poses after the ceremonial reception for South Africa's President Cyril Ramaphosa at the forecourt of India's Rashtrapati Bhavan Presidential Palace in New Delhi, India, January 25, 2019. REUTERS/Altaf Hussain/File Photo

The controversy at India’s government-funded National Statistical Commission coincided with opposition criticism that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has not created enough jobs during his more than four-year rule.

With an election due by May in the world’s biggest democracy, Modi, 68, still leads in popularity though his ratings have dropped and polls forecast his ruling alliance will fall short of a majority.

Statistics commission head P.C. Mohanan said he and colleague J. Meenakshi were unhappy at the non-publication of jobs data due in December and alleged interference from other state agencies over backdated GDP data.

“Both of us in the commission have been feeling that we are not effectively discharging the responsibilities supposed to be done by the commission,” Mohanan told India Today TV on Wednesday.

The pair, both non-government members of the seven-seat commission, resigned on Monday, local media said.

In response, India’s Statistics Ministry said the two had not expressed concerns earlier, it was processing the jobs data to be released soon, and the commission had itself called for the revision of GDP data.

“The Ministry of Statistics and Program Implementation not only places a high regard for the Commission but also values its advice and on which appropriate action is taken,” the ministry said in its statement on Wednesday.

When authorities issued the backdated data last year, ministers used it to attack the opposition Congress party for its performance in office between 2004-2014.

The revisions for 2005-2012 showed growth at a lower pace under the Congress-led government than Modi’s.

Yet only three months before, another government panel had estimated growth higher during the previous government.

With this week’s resignations, the statistics watchdog now has five posts lying vacant.

Critics said the dispute was another example of state interference in institutions supposed to have autonomy.

The government pressured the central bank last year to ease liquidity policies, leading to the departure of its governor.

FILE PHOTO: India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrives to attend the Beating the Retreat ceremony in New Delhi, India, January 29, 2019. REUTERS/Altaf Hussain/File Photo

“We mourn the death of the National Statistical Commission and remember with gratitude its valiant fight to release untainted GDP data and employment data,” P. Chidambaram, former finance minister and a senior Congress party leader, said in a message on Twitter.

India’s economy has been expanding by 7 percent plus annually — the fastest pace among major economies — but uneven growth has meant there are not enough jobs for millions entering the workforce each year.

Earlier this month, the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy, a leading independent think-tank, issued a report showing the country lost as many as 11 million jobs last year.

Reporting by Manoj Kumar; Editing by Martin Howell and Andrew Cawthorne

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