Amartya Sen was the chief guest at the first Ashok Rudra Memorial lecture of Visva Bharati University. (Photo by Anamni Gupta)
Noted economist and Nobel laureate Amartya Sen on Sunday said implementing universal basic income (UBI) in India could lead to more privatisation as people would spend more on private education and healthcare.
Sen, who was the chief guest at the first Ashok Rudra Memorial lecture on ‘Universal Basic Income as part of the Right to Minimum Economic Security’ organised by the Department of Economics & Politics of Visva Bharati, said: “People in a market-driven economy will spend more on private education and healthcare if their income is increased if the state grants them an amount as a minimum income.”
Last week, Sikkim’s ruling party, the Sikkim Democratic Front (SDF), said it had decided to include UBI in its manifesto ahead of the Assembly elections later this year and aims to implement the scheme by 2022.
Delivering the lecture, economist Pranab Bardhan of the University of California said a state should distribute a basic income to all its citizens irrespective of their economic status. “Universal basic income should be introduced as a citizenship right and not as an anti-poverty programme to rule out inclusion or exclusion errors. There are various schemes under anti-poverty programmes where the poor have been identified and demarcated as ‘below poverty line’. Yet studies have proved that a number of people above the poverty line often get included whereas the real beneficiaries are denied BPL rights,” Bardhan said.
Reacting to Bardhan’s remarks, Sen said providing a basic income to all citizens won’t ensure that it would be spent on health and education — the two main objectives of any developmental strategy.
In his lecture, Bardhan highlighted that introducing such a grant would not only ensure financial security to the poor but also serve as insurance to victims of natural calamities.
“A large number of people irrespective of economic status are victims of natural calamities, like those affected by Kerala floods earlier this year. Such a step will serve as insurance to them,” he said.
Bardhan also pointed out that such a grant would ensure financial security to women, who, according to research quoted by him, still constitute one-third of the adult workforce in India. “The grant will be useful to those whose occupations are still looked down upon, such as sex workers, sanitary workers, manual scavengers among others,” he said.
However, the question remains about the source of funding such a grant since a sheer number of schemes and programmes are run by governments in India. “This is possible by decreasing the subsidies enjoyed by the privileged class and increasing property tax,” Bardhan said.
The lecture was in the memory of economist Ashok Rudra (1930-1992), who was associated with a number educational institutions, including Indian Statistical Institute, Bureau of Economic Studies, Kerala, Bombay University, Delhi University, and Visva Bharati University. He was also associated with the Planning Commission of India.