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Rahul Gandhi’s big poll promise: Minimum income for all if Congress comes to power

Congress president Rahul Gandhi has said that his party would guarantee minimum income for all the poor of the country if it formed the government at the Centre after the 2019 elections.

lok sabha elections Updated: Jan 28, 2019 23:57 IST
Ritesh Mishra and Roshan Kishore
Ritesh Mishra and Roshan Kishore
Hindustan Times, Raipur/New Delhi
Rahul Gandhi,Lok Sabha elections,Minimum income
Congress president Rahul Gandhi addressing people at 'Kisan Abhaar Sammelan' and 'Krishi Rin Mukti Karayakram' in Atal Nagar at Chhattisgarh on January 28.(ANI Photo)

Congress president Rahul Gandhi on Monday announced that his party will ensure a minimum income guarantee for every poor person in the country if it comes to power after the summer’s Lok Sabha elections, pre-emptively staking claim to a welfare scheme which some speculate could be part of the Interim Budget the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government will present on February 1.

Gandhi made the announcement at the Kisaan Abhaar Sammelan held in Raipur to express gratitude to the people of Chhattisgarh, particularly farmers, for voting the party to power in the state after a gap of 15 years.

“We are now taking a step which no government in the world has taken before. The Congress party has decided to give every poor person a minimum income guarantee if we come to power in 2019. This means each poor person in India will have minimum income and the money will be transferred into the bank account. There will be no hungry, poor people in India,” Gandhi said.

Recent months have seen an increased interest in the concept of Universal Basic Income (UBI), although the idea has been around for some time and been discussed by policy makers for a few years. UBI is a periodic cash payment made to all citizens to cover their basic needs. To be sure, Gandhi’s idea, details of which aren’t available yet, sounds more like a minimum income guarantee for specific households (in this case, poor ones), as opposed to a universal one.

This was confirmed by the head of the party’s data analytics cell Praveen Chakravarty

“What Rahul Gandhi has promised is not Universal Basic Income but minimum income guarantee, which will be progressive in nature, unlike a situation where even the top 1% gets direct cash payments. It will basically involve identifying persons below a minimum income threshold and giving them differentiated payments on the basis of distance from that threshold.”

Union minister and BJP leader Ravi Shankar Prasad said: “People of India know the reality of Congress and have seen through its games.”

“Gandhi’s claim to provide minimum income guarantee for the poor is like hundreds of Congress announcements which are not meant to be implemented. His party remained in power for 58 years at the Centre and made thousands of announcement. If they had been implemented, the face of the country, including of the poor, would have been different,” Prasad said.

The Congress dwelt on UBI in a 2017 document “The Real State of the Economy 2017: Where are the jobs Mr Prime Minister” that was released by the party on January 30, 2017, a day before the official Economic Survey for 2016-17 was released. Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh wrote the foreword to the document. Incidentally, the official Economic Survey also featured an entire chapter on UBI that year.

“There is no question that potential resources exist that could fund a modest UBI scheme, but even deciding on what the minimum amount should be can be controversial,” the document said. The party did spell out in clear terms what UBI should not do. “UBI is welcome, but not at the cost of existing welfare schemes like MGNREGA [Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act] or through reduced spending on education and health,” it added.

In its purest form, and also for it to make sense, economists have held, UBI should replace all other subsidies and benefits.

There is a hint in the document that the Congress could take an MGNREGS-like approach to UBI by first launching a pilot in select regions. “It would be worth experimenting with pilot UBI implementation in select districts. It we do not remove existing subsidies during this pilot, we can monitor and see if claims on these subsidies gradually diminish,” the document added.

Indeed, even on Monday, Gandhi spoke about rights-based initiatives of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government – MGNREGA, National Food Security Law and Right to Information – before making the poll promise.

According to Economic Survey report of 2016-17, UBI (something similar to minimum income guarantee) of Rs 7,620 per year could cost as much as 5% of GDP.

As per the last poverty estimate done on basis of National Sample Survey Office’s consumption survey of 2011-12, there were about 269 million poor in India. Subsequently, an expert committee under former Reserve Bank of India governor C Rangarajan in June 2014, estimated that 29.5%, or 363 million, Indians were poor. However, the Rangarajan Committee report was not accepted by the government. The next consumption survey report is likely to be made public in June 2019.

The 2019 manifesto of the Congress will contain more details, Chakravarty and former finance minister and Congress leader P Chidambaram said (the latter in a tweet). This is expected by March, HT learns.

Chidambaram tweeted that the “Congress government will generate resources to implement the promise made by Rahul Gandhi”, and called the party president’s announcement “historic”.

Neelanjan Sircar, assistant professor at Ashoka University, said: “It is difficult to say how a minimum income guarantee promise will actually work for the Congress in the elections. Voters might want to see tangible benefits from such a scheme before committing themselves politically to the idea.”

“However, such announcements might help the Congress in stealing potential advantages of similar rhetoric by the BJP,” he added.

First Published: Jan 28, 2019 23:53 IST

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