On 28 January, just days before the Bharatiya Janata Party-led central government announced its interim budget, the Congress president Rahul Gandhi declared that if voted to power, his party would implement a minimum-income guarantee scheme for the poor, “to help eradicate poverty and hunger.” The scheme would entail guaranteed cash-transfers to specific sections of India’s population and is an adaptation of Universal Basic Income, or UBI. Modern economics defines UBI as “periodic cash payment, unconditionally delivered to all on an individual basis, without work requirement.”
As state policy, UBI first gained traction in India after Arvind Subramanian, the former chief economic adviser, mooted the idea of a quasi-UBI in his Economic Survey of 2016-2017—an annual flagship document compiled under the aegis of the ministry of finance that provides detailed statistical data and analysis of the country’s economic performance and outlook. Since then, a number of states, including Odisha and Telangana, have announced variants of UBI in the form of direct cash-transfers to poor farmers, while Sikkim has proposed introducing a universal income guarantee by 2022. In February this year, the central government rolled out a similar scheme for small and marginal farmers, which promised Rs 6,000 per annum in three instalments.
Recently, Thomas Piketty, a French economist, confirmed that he and Abhijit Banerjee, a Ford Foundation professor of economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology will be advising the Congress on its scheme. Banerjee and Piketty are also closely associated with the World Inequality Database, or WID, an open-source database on the historical evolution of income and wealth distribution.