Minimum Income Guarantee: Not a utopian dream anymore

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Rahul Gandhi has brought the debate of Universal Basic Income back into the mainstream once again with his promise of providing minimum wages to the poor sections of the society.

“It’s going to be historic. Congress has decided to provide a guaranteed minimum income to the poor in all states. The poor will get a minimum income directly in their bank accounts. This scheme will be the first of its kind in the world as no other country has come up with such a decision so far,” he said at a farmers’ rally organized to mark the implementation of the loan waiver promise which helped Congress defeat BJP in Chhattisgarh.

Being a first in history, Rahul Gandhi has stated that nobody will remain hungry or poor when every poor person will be given a guaranteed income but he refrained from providing any further insight into the scheme. This scheme is being speculated to be similar to the concept of Universal Basic Income being implemented in many parts of the world. Finland, Kenya, Brazil, France, Germany, Switzerland and Alaska Permanent Fund in US have run some similar experiments to mixed results, depending on the demographics.

As the world stands on the verge of mass unemployment in the wake of automation and artificial intelligence, there is a widespread apprehension towards govt policies that seem to neglect this premonition.  Universal Basic Income was always treated as a utopian, impractical dream in India but it seems that the time has come when the poor get their fair share of the great financial pie of the country’s economy.

Some countries in the past have adopted a form of Universal Basic Income where every single citizen of the country gets a fixed monthly salary irrespective of his social, educational or economic standing. Under Narendra Modi’s government, this idea was extensively studied and it was speculated that a minimum of Rs. 7,620 per annum would be required to alleviate the sufferings of the lower strata of the society.

On the contrary, Rahul Gandhi has not made any utopian promise of providing an income to every single citizen of the country; rather he has targeted the deserving, the financially underprivileged section of the populace.

“Assuring minimum guaranteed income will result in reducing the growing income disparity. This will put the poor in the country at the centre of socio-economic policies and governance of the country,” said Bhalchandra Mungekar, economist and member of the Congress manifesto committee.

Rahul Gandhi also took a jibe at Narendra Modi by saying that he had enough funds to write off loans of Rs 3.5 lakh crore of 15-odd industrialists and extend benefit of Rs 30,000 crore to Anil Ambani-owned company in Rafale deal but he did not have enough funds to waive farm loans of the poor farmers, it shows the priorities of ruling party.

Congress is all set to demonstrate that there is a huge difference between caring for the poor and pretending to do so. Also, there is a huge difference between the Universal Basic Income implemented elsewhere in the world history and the minimum income promise by Rahul Gandhi.

Two committees, headed by Suresh Tendulkar and C Rangarajan respectively, studied poverty in India and arrived at different conclusions. It is not clear which definition or conclusion will be adopted by Congress while implementing Minimum Income Guarantee plan, but it is certain that is bound to pull millions out of poverty within no time.

In the words of former Finance Minister P Chidambaram: “140 million people were lifted out of poverty between 2004 and 2014. Now we should make a determined effort to wipe out poverty in India. The poor of India have the first charge on the resources of the country. Congress will find the resources to implement the promise of Rahul Gandhi”.

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