Rahul Gandhi’s UBI Promise has a whole lot of questions

Shri Rahul Gandhi’s all of a sudden declaration of Universal Basic Income (UBI) to the targeted poorer sections in the society may appeal to Congress-lovers and socialists at large, as it is aimed at, to serve and feed the poor. However, the modalities of implementing the plan, not being in place, it has become questionable and seemed to be a hurried one. Here, in this case, the Congress president appeared to be more eager to outwit the BJP before it (the party) presents its forthcoming Financial Budget in the Parliament and (supposedly) announcing the schemes of similar kind to the poor.

The political parties and the elite of the country are drawn to this reality of the poor being poor only when Oxfam in its recent report put the lopsided growth of the country with the country’s rich being super rich (even in international standards) and the poor being in utter poverty, living in hunger. It became clear to all, after the eye-opening report that the issues of the poor needed to be addressed immediately fair and square. The context being provided, the age-old Congress party which was again the causer of this poverty in the country with its marathon rule coupled with crony capitalism took this recourse to universal basic income formula in an erratic way.

To begin with, UBI is a concept brought forward by the world economists long ago but gained currency, of late, because of automation. It (UBI) centres around the idea that the government would pay a certain flat fee to every adult citizen in order to fend himself as Artificial Intelligence (AI) would replace him from labour/work. This is what is happening in the developed world with the Industry 4.0 (fourth industrial revolution), so they are trying to guarantee income.

In India’s case, there’s no such dearth for labour/work. Still being a developing country, India is not fully automated. However, the Congress is saying, since the others (sections of society) have means of earning, only the very poor have to be given money. The question is, where would the money come from to pay for the scheme espoused by the party i.e. the-UBI? Would they increase taxes and burden on the middle classes? Or would they impose wealth tax and inheritance taxes on the rich? I don’t think any government would take the latter measure, for most of our law-makers are from among the affluent and they wouldn’t impose taxes on themselves.

All the developed countries impose wealth and inheritance taxes on their rich. But in India, however much wealth a person has, it will be inherited by his offspring fully and automatically after his demise. The former finance minister P. Chidambaram said (on NDTV on 28th Jan) that they are working out on UBI and release the plan in their election manifesto. In that case, he (Shri Chidambaram) being the coordinator of the drafting committee, would he impose on himself and his ilk (being super rich) the wealth and inheritance taxes? would he dare to bring in those taxes on all the stinking-rich Indians? Of course, his party president is also one such richly rich person. If he really does, that would be the proper way to go ahead with Congresses’ scheme of UBI. But never in the history of Congress such decisions are taken.

The proposal to throw money at people and flagging the program as something noble is a lazy-man’s response to a complex problem of Poverty-alleviation with a deeper entrenched-roots. In the case of UBI, the following questions arise: 1. Along with UBI, would the existing subsidies to the poor and the other welfare programs continue? 2. Is it partial or complete substitute to the existing social security or welfare programs? 3. Would it not be good to spend money on health, education and skill development of the poor? The poor lack access to those said things much more than to money.

To give people a basic income of around some amount, requiring nothing in return, no reciprocal obligation seems absurd. Under the existing welfare measures, some people are already being paid even if they don’t work. May be, as some argue, a Basic Income serves as the venture capital for the poor to do other kinds of work.

But when they seek other jobs and increase their income, how would the UBI get reduced or stopped? What are the assessment scales or criteria to notice the poor have risen. Once they’re poor, are they poor for life?

Some time ago, the same Rahul Gandhi stated that poverty is a state of mind as if it was a mental concept rather than a physical one. Now, the tone is changed. All in all, one can say, the Congress party has jumped the gun on this big issue of UBI without doing proper homework.

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