INDIA: Minimum Income Guarantee is a promise to which India is committed

Shri Rahul Gandhi, president of the Indian National Congress-the main opposition party in India, made this election PROMISE if his party comes back to power- Providing a minimum guaranteed income of Rs 72,000 per year to every family belonging to the 20% of the poorest families in the country. This promise becomes very important in the wake of the imminent parliamentary elections scheduled to begin from next month. He did not give further details such as HOW the figure was reached and WHERE the money for its implementation would come from. He did assert, though, that funds are available and is perfectly do-able.

Despite immediate attacks on the promise from the leaders of the Bhartiya Janata Party, ruling India with a coalition of over 30 political parties, the promise is indeed part of the international commitments India has already made. For example, a minimum income guarantee is one of the hallmarks of Sustainable Development Goals 2030 and keeps recurring in many of the concurrent goals and the targets interlinked with them.

For instance, the very first goal of No Poverty calls for actions to eliminate extreme poverty by 2030. Eradicate extreme poverty for all people everywhere. It is currently measured as people living on less than $1.25 a day. Even a cursory look at the figure- Rs 86.16 per person in India, brings the figure to Rs 31,448.40 per person per year. Multiply that by a medium- sized family of 5 and the minimum income a family would require per year goes up to about Rs. 1,57,242 per family per year. Clearly, the promise of a minimum guaranteed income of Rs.72,000 per year to such families, even if insufficient, would be a life line for them.

The affiliated targets for achieving this goal call for concentrated proactive activities on the part of the Government. Target number three for the first goal of No Poverty is one of them. It urges the authorities to “Implement nationally appropriate social protection systems and measures for all, including floors. And, by 2030 achieve substantial coverage of the poor and the vulnerable.”

Different parts of Government in India have in fact taken many measures to end poverty. At least for eradicating extreme poverty with schemes like Mahtama Gandhi National Rural Employment Act (MNREGA) to Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana/PMJDY. Even the incumbent Government claims of having disbursed a cumulative amount of USD 25 Billion to 329 Million beneficiaries through Direct Benefit Transfer is something very similar to the minimum income guarantee that the opposition is promising.

Similarly, Goal 8 of the SDG 2030 asks the country to promote inclusive and sustainable economic growth, employment and decent work for all by 2030. It includes, among other targets, achieving full and productive employment and decent work for all women and men, including young people and persons with disabilities with equal pay for equal work. Evidently, this too is a goal that would require proactive action aimed at a minimum income guarantee. 
The same is the case with goal 10 of the SDG 2030. It also asks for Reducing Inequality from within and across communities. The very first target linked with this goal asks for achieving sustained “income growth of the bottom 40 per cent of the population at a rate higher than the national average”.

The promise of the minimum income guarantee from the opposition must be seen in this context. Instead of finding fault with the promise and going out of their way to prove the ‘infeasibility’ of the promise, the Indian Government would do better by promising and delivering the same to the people. This could be part of its internal commitment if it stays in power after the elections. The opposition too, should ensure that it doesn’t turn out to be an empty election promise and carries out implementation in earnest if they come to power. Both should, however, ensure that the promise is not turned into a farce by bringing in for- profit business houses. In the past there were many schemes meant to help the needy but ended up benefitting themselves. One would do well to remember how farmers got insurance benefits as insultingly low as Rs 1 after crop losses despite having paid premiums in the Hundreds of Rupees!

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Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AHRC-STM-015-2019
Countries : India,
Issues : Democracy, Freedom of expression, Impunity, Labour rights,