ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Data on Employment, Unemployment and Education

India had an enviable tradition of routine collection, collation and publication of empirical information. In the last half century we have added to this. But in our enthusiasm to do more and better, the official statistical agencies and their economic and statistical advisors have tended to centralise thinking and designing and processing of the information. This has led to atrophy at the state/regional level. There is, moreover, a tendency for every agency to be asked or expected to do everything. The large-scale surveys conducted at great cost should be fully utilised. This can be done if the task is properly decentralised. Finally, the NSSO must refrain from doing annual surveys in matters in which a quinquennial survey is more than adequate.

The last half century, which is also the first half century of our republic, has seen vast improvements and changes in the information base of our economy, polity and society. We, of course, did not start from scratch or nothing. The British administration in India, from about the middle of the second half of the 19th century, organised collection and publication of routine information on a variety of subjects, mainly for needs and convenience of administration. The population census was one. In it, besides age and sex of the people, information at different stages was collected on caste, language and literacy, size of villages, etc, some of which have been both benchmarks as well as outstanding scholarly works, as in the case of the linguistic census of 1901 or the caste census of 1931. Routine data on exports and imports were collected and published. But a new thing was the movement of goods by rail and water, including coastal shipping and river and canal transport within the country. An interested person could collect information about movement of different goods from one railway station to another, from one province to another – the form in which these data were regularly published. I do not know about most other countries; but in the heyday of railroad and river transport in the US, such information was not routinely available. However, the irony is that now, with computerisation and all, the railway ministry does not any longer give such information even to the state governments.

Another very important data collection related to land. The British started survey settlement operations which provided periodic – once in 20 or 30 years – data on the different acreages of land put to different uses, the area of land held by different persons, the area leased in and leased out, the persons involved in this, the area put to different crops, the area irrigated sourcewise – all for every village. This was routine in the rayatwari settled regions. But in zamindari areas also this was done – routinely in the temporarily settled estates, and occasionally in the permanently settled estates at the request of the zamindars. These survey settlement operations and the revision settlements created records which were not only maintained in the rayatwari areas by the patwari or patel or talathi in every village but all mutations and changes were recorded by them every year. This resulted in the quinquennial publication of land use data and distribution of landholdings by size of holdings. The crop acreage data was one basis for estimating production of any crop every year; the other basis was the normal yield of this crop in the area collected with great care at the time of the survey settlement operation. An eye estimate of the particular year’s rate of likely yield with reference to this normal provided the other basis for estimating total production. The limited and unexpanding area under irrigation and absence of any secular increase in crop yield rate rendered this a reasonable basis for estimating production. An important use of this information was identification of drought or famine condition in the area. But no estimation of poverty or unemployment was required to undertake relief measures. Turn out at the test relief works started soon after the kharif season was the basis for estimating the magnitude of distress that needed employment provision as well as supply of foodgrains in the market. We shall return to it at a later stage. The crop cutting survey inevitably substituted the subjective anewari method for estimating yield in the post-independence period.

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