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‘Possible only today’: Congress defends minimum income guarantee poll promise

Former Union Finance Minister P Chidambaram said the Congress, if voted to power, will implement the minimum income guarantee poll promise in phased manner.

lok sabha elections Updated: Mar 27, 2019 11:32 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Minimum income guarantee,Congress,Rahul Gandhi
Senior Congress leader P Chidambaram on Wednesday defended the party’s poll promise of implementing minimum income guarantee scheme. (Photo: Twitter/@ANI)

Senior Congress leader and former Union Finance Minister P Chidambaram on Wednesday pitched a strong defence of the minimum income guarantee poll promise made by party president Rahul Gandhi. Chidambaram said a scheme of this scale, expected to cost around Rs 3.6 lakh core, “could not have been implemented 20 years ago and certainly not 40 years ago”.

“It can be implemented only today given the size of Indian economy,” said Chidambaram amid criticism from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, which has targeted the Congress over its income guarantee poll promise. The BJP said the same “garibi hatao” (eradicate poverty) slogan was given by former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, the grandmother of Congress president Rahul Gandhi.

Chidambaram said, “Indian economy has grown in size due to liberalisation implemented by a Congress government in 1991. The two successive Congress governments between 2004 and 2014 made further progress. The size of Indian economy is now such that a scheme like the one proposed can be implemented only today.”

The former Union finance minister said revenues are growing at about 18 per cent and the resource available with the central and state governments will practically double in about five years. “After considering all the factors, we have come to conclusion that the Government of India and states should provide Rs 6,000 income support to each family,” he said.

He also said that the Congress party has consulted economists and experts before making the income guarantee poll promise. “We have consulted enough economists, enough experts on the subject. All of them have agreed that India has the capacity to implement such a scheme.”

This comes in the backdrop of questions being raised about the economic feasibility of the promised poverty eradication scheme. Experts and leaders from other political parties have expressed apprehensions that such a scheme would put unbearable burden on Indian economy.

The various existing poverty eradication schemes amount to about Rs 3.4 lakh crore with experts suggesting that the minimum income guarantee poll promise, if implemented, may take the total burden on the exchequer to nearly 7 lakh crore.

Chidambaram dismissed the concerns saying “at no point the total burden will exceed 1.8 per cent of GDP”.

Chidambaram said that while the details of the minimum income guarantee scheme will be given once the government is formed. But he added, “It will be rolled out in phases. It is not like that the government is formed on May 26 and the scheme is rolled out on May 27. It will be rolled out in phases.”

Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley described the Congress’s poll promise as a “bluff announcement” in a blog. The BJP has criticised the income guarantee poll promise, named as NYAY (Nyuntam Aay Yojana) as unworkable.

Responding to Jaitley’s criticism, Chidambaram threw back a question: “Mr Finance Minister, do you support poverty eradication programme NYAY or not?”

First Published: Mar 27, 2019 11:07 IST