With Lok Sabha elections just a few months away, Congress president Rahul Gandhi Monday announced that if voted to power, his government would provide a “minimum income guarantee to every poor person” in the country.
Addressing a large gathering at the Kisan Abhaar rally in Atal Nagar, Rahul Gandhi said, “It is a historic decision. No government anywhere in the world has taken such a decision. Only the Congress can do it. The Congress party has decided that immediately after winning the 2019 elections, the government will provide a guarantee for minimum income to every poor. This means there will be a minimum income in the bank account of every poor Indian. This means that nobody in India will stay hungry, or will be poor.”
The idea of a universal basic income has been discussed in policy circles in India since former Chief Economic Advisor Arvind Subramanian highlighted it in the Economic Survey two years ago. He had undertaken an elaborate study and suggested that such a scheme — costing about 4.5-5 per cent of the GDP — can be implemented if it were to replace all existing subsidies.
On Monday, much of Rahul’s speech revolved around the idea of India — one of his party, and the other of the BJP. “One Hindustan is of Narendra Modi, is of Anil Ambani, of Nirav Modi, of Mehul Choksi, of Vijay Mallya. They keep you standing in line during notebandi. They steal your money and put it in the pockets of Anil Ambani. They tell you that the country needs defence, but take money from the Air Force and give it to Anil Ambani. So the Congress party has taken a historic decision. And I am saying this not just to the people of Chhattisgarh, but to the poor people of India. I am saying it from this stage. Whatever I say, I do. Whether it is loan waivers, whether it is the question of giving land back to farmers, whether it is about giving the right price to farmers. I complete the promises I make,” he said.
The Congress President said, “We gave a guarantee under MNREGA for 100 days of work, gave the right to food (security). We gave the right to information, which as a guarantee, opened the doors of the bureaucracy. Now, a minimum income guarantee.”
Rahul also gave away symbolic loan waiver certificates to farmers from Chhattisgarh. He praised the Bhupesh Baghel-led state government for waiving short term loans of farmers worth Rs 6,000 crores from cooperative and government banks, setting the price of paddy procurement at Rs 2,500, and its decision to return land in Bastar earlier acquired for a Tata Project which failed to get off the ground. “What the BJP couldn’t do in 15 years, the Congress did in two days.”
Rahul said there was no shortage of money. “Narendra Modi and the BJP want to make two Hindustans. One Hindustan of the Rafale scam, of Anil Ambani, of Mehul Choksi. In that Hindustan, whatever you want, you can get. You want the Rafale contract? You will get it. You want land, you will get that. You want water, you will get that too. The other Hindustan is the Hindustan of the poor. Of the farmers and the youth. In that you will get thing. In that you can only listen to Mann ki Baat. 24 hours Mann ki Baat, Man ki Baat, Man ki Baat,” he said.
The Congress President, however, did not offer any details on the minimum income guarantee, or the definition of poor. While the individual income-tax exemption limit in India is Rs 2.5 lakh, in April 2009, the Arjun Sengupta Committee had said about 836 million people, or 77% of India’s population were living on less than Rs 20 per day at the end of 2004-05. A committee headed by Suresh Tendulkar had said that India’s combined rural-urban poverty headcount ratio in 2004-05 stood at 37.2%, with the poverty line at Rs 447 in rural areas and at Rs 579 in urban areas based on consumption expenditure.