Why just job data? India must reform the entire data ecosystem | editorials | Hindustan Times
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Why just job data? India must reform the entire data ecosystem

Independent quality control and timely audits of data that we are generating is need of the hour

editorials Updated: May 11, 2017 13:45 IST
Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaks at the launch of the Supreme Court's integrated case management system, which makes it a paperless court, in New Delhi on Wednesday. PTI Photo by Vijay Verma (PTI5_10_2017_000110B)
Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaks at the launch of the Supreme Court's integrated case management system, which makes it a paperless court, in New Delhi on Wednesday. PTI Photo by Vijay Verma (PTI5_10_2017_000110B)(PTI)

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has set up a high-level task force under Arvind Panagariya, vice chairman of NITI Aayog, to generate timely and reliable data on employment in India. Job data in India is mostly outdated, or incomplete and little information is available on the informal sector, which employs 90% of the workforce. That means there is no effective way to gauge the impact of government policy on job creation.

It is often said: If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it. In that regard, this is a welcome step. New data can help design effective policies to spur job creation and fight unemployment.

But employment statistics are one aspect of a larger systemic problem. Experts have long argued that India’s data collection system needs radical overhaul due to quality and coverage issues. It has been observed that different official data sources point to disparate conclusions. That needs to change. Manpower shortage for data collections is one reason which hinders India from taking up new surveys and increasing the sample size to improve quality. For instance, the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO), the official source of key socio-economic indicators — including estimation of the poverty line — has around 24% positions vacant for ground level staff responsible for collecting data.

Further, data at the national and state level is not enough, as they provide a macro picture of the state of affairs. Given the size and diversity of the country, targeted interventions and smart policy design call for disaggregated district-level data, which is not readily available.

Another issue pertains to over-reporting of data for monitoring the performance of government schemes. When the staff putting the data together is aware that figures they are reporting will serve as a benchmark for their performance, they tend to fudge. This needs to be fixed. Independent quality control and timely audits of data that we are generating is need of the hour.

Keeping statistics at the heart of decision-making is the only way to steer India’s policy discourse towards ground reality and potentially staying away from ideological debates. Along with this renewed focus on jobs data, the government should focus on systemic reforms of the data ecosystem.