Will the farmer benefit from cash support?

A first after many years, farmers are at the centre of political attention. Ahead of the general elections, there is a rush of cash support schemes to woo them. This may bring some solace to farmers, but will the schemes have a lasting impact?


Quick fix aid

All through the day, the friends and family of Sankariah N keep a close vigil on his whereabouts. The 35-year-old lives in Telangana’s Nalgonda district, infamous for farmer suicides. He is surrounded by the conditions that led many other farmers to the fatal climax. “I am terribly upset by the fall in the prices of cotton and pulses,” he says, indicating negligible returns from his last crops. Much like the 60 per cent farmers of the country’s newest state, Sankariah too, has sunk in a debt abyss.

Yet, his face is brimming with gratitude. “Last year, the government gave me Rs 12,000, an unimaginable amount, given that I had no resource to grow my next crop,” he says. The money comes from Rythu Bandhu Pathakam (RBP), the country’s first farmer investment support programme. Sankariah can be the first case study to understand if the programme can bring solace to the crisis-ridden agrarian sector. Under RBP, the state gives some 5 million annual farmers investment support of Rs 20,000 per hectare (ha) without any cap on landholding. The cash security has been increased to Rs 25,000 per ha for the current rabi, or winter, crop.

Sankariah has no clue that the country is enviously monitoring the impact of the programme on farmers like him. Neither does he know that just about a month ago, the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) got re-elected in the state riding high on this programme. From the residence of the chief minister of Odisha to the Prime Minister’s Office in Delhi, Telangana’s experiment is being closely scrutinised.

For the first time in several years, agrarian distress is singularly dictating the country’s politics. December of 2018 can easily go down in history as a watershed month. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which desperately wants to return to power at the Centre after the general elections, lost its three crucial governments in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. At the core of the election agenda was the deepening agrarian crisis. In Telangana, TRS returned to power with a high number of seats in the Assembly. It turns out that RBP was the chief vote-catcher. The message is clear: those who take care of farmers get to rule.

Warning signals for NDA

The NDA government needs to tread with caution for two reasons. On January 28, 2016, Prime Minister Narendra Modi promised farmers to double their income by 2022, but the government has already lost half of this time. Second, BJP cannot hope to form the government without reclaiming the farmer-dense Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, apart from Uttar Pradesh. With inflation rate at an 18-month low in December 2018, the Modi government cannot go into the elections emphatically. The country’s wholesale and retail inflations were at 3.8 and 2.2 per cent respectively. It spoilt the mood in the farm sector, with farmers holding protests to seek fair price for their produce. From wheat to potatoes and onions, they dumped their harvest on the road as market rates dipped to a low that could barely recover 30 per cent of their investment.

Data since July 2018 shows the inflation rate of primary food items has plummeted below zero. This deflation of prices in the wholesale market means that farmers are not making any profit. In 2008-09, when the prices of food items rose, it pushed up the overall inflation and affected the consumer. The result was the downfall of UPA government in 2014. This time, the deflation in food prices has brought the overall consumer price index down, leading to a big income crisis for farmers. At a time when the prices of agricultural commodities are globally low and India’s export in the sector is unimpressive, farmers cannot hope to get encouraging prices, even if they try. To make matters worse, the wholesale price index of food items is lower than the agricultural inputs for most years since 1981-82. The key reason for this is the rise in the cost of inputs such as irrigation, electricity, pesticides and fertilisers.

Two years after Modi’s promise, farmers have just not earned enough for their income to double. In fact, there has been no addition to their average income. Between 2004 and 2014, the average earning of an agricultural household per month was Rs 214 and expenditure Rs 207. In a period claimed to be the recovery phase for farmers, thanks to the 4 per cent-plus growth rate, disposable income of only Rs 7 a month is ironic.

Since 2014, the country has suffered two major droughts and 850-odd incidents of crop loss due to freak weather events. Finally in 2017 and 2018, when there was bumper harvest, the prices crashed. With nearly 250 districts affected by drought, farmers have sown less this winter. This means, neither does a farmer have the base capital to invest, nor risk going back to agriculture.

Studies show that the target to double farmers’ income by 2022 is unfeasible. The current growth trend of their income on real price adjusted for inflation is only 3.8 per cent, shows a NITI Aayog study. At this rate, it will take at least 25 years to double farmers’ income.

According to a joint assessment by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, and the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations, farm revenue fell 6 per cent per year from 2014 to 2016.

Ramesh Chand, member NITI Aayog, says from 2001 to 2014 productivity in the crop sector has grown at the rate of 3.1 per cent. At this rate, income from the farm will rise by 18.7 per cent in seven years, that is, by 2021. In a desperate attempt to achieve its target by 2022, the government wants to add income from livestock to make the numbers rise by 27.5 per cent. With all the potential sources of income combined, a 107.5 per cent rise can be achieved, but only by 2025.

Close to 43 per cent of the country’s debt-ridden households depend on farming. With elections round the corner, the government is scrambling to provide first-aid solutions, however ineffective they prove to be in the long run. One such example is the Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi (PM-KISAN), announced during the Interim Budget. Every farming household with landholding of less than 2 ha will get Rs 6,000 per year in three installments. For this, Rs 75,000 crore has been allocated for 2019-20. The money will be directly transferred to farmers’ bank accounts. The government has allocated Rs 20,000 for one retrospective installment between December 2018 and March 2019. This means the government will give Rs 2,000 to every farmer family before the elections.

“The near-zero income of farmers in the last two years has forced the government to introduce the cash assistance scheme,” says Chand. In 2017-18, the price of agricultural produce increased by 1 per cent, while farmers endured 4 per cent increase in input costs. In 2018-19, this worsened as the agriculture produce price did not increase at all, while input costs shot up by 5 per cent (see ‘Initiative of loss’).

Source: Compiled by Down To Earth

Sop to farmers for poll effect
Centre's money transfer scheme worth Rs 6,000 a year has left out landless agricultural labourers

A highlight of the 2019-20 interim budget is the provision of cash transfer worth Rs 6,000 a year to landholding farmers with holding size of up to 2 hectares (ha). This is clearly not aimed at restoring the viability of crop production. It is neither an input subsidy that can incentivise expenditure that raises productivity, nor a measure to prop up prices received by farmers as output subsidy.

The initiative named PM-KISAN appears to be more like a basic income scheme, in which direct transfer is made to the poor. But here too, the measure seems ill-judged. It is directed at landowning households, who may not be financially worse off in some irrigated areas of India, and ignores landless agricultural labourers, who are the poorest. Also, the sum amounting to Rs 500 a month or Rs 100 per head for a five-member household is ridiculously low. Compared to this, the Rythu Bandhu scheme of Telanagana, which offers a similar land holdings-linked transfer, provides Rs 8,000 a year per acre (0.4 ha) to farmers. It offers about Rs 40,000 to farmers with 2 ha and more to those with bigger land holdings. The KALIA (Krushak Assistance for Livelihood and Income Augmentation) Scheme in Odisha provides Rs 10,000 a year to every farmer with land holdings up to 2 ha and Rs 12,500 to land- less labourers.

Illustration: Tarique Aziz
So, the direct benefit transfer, supposed to start from December 1, 2018, is meant more for effect than a substantial measure of income support. Even the demand for old age pension doing the rounds currently places it at half the minimum wage or about Rs 4,000-5,000 per month. The Union government has hyped the scheme by referring to its scale—the fact that it would benefit 120 million farmers across the country if one goes by the distribution of landholding sections in rural areas at an allocation of Rs 75,000 crore during a financial year.

But in an election year, the move means little, as it is left to the next government to fulfil it. What the ruling government was really interested in was the Rs 20,000 crore it had allocated for expenditure this year. But even this amount has been arranged for by curtailing allocations to other schemes. Much more was needed for MGNREGA than what has been actually spent. Also, the revised estimates of expenditure in 2018-19 for the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana and the Swachh Bharat Mission, for instance, are significantly lower than the spending in 2017-18. So, it can be concluded that the Union government has allocated old funds for a new insubstantial scheme.

(The writer is professor, Centre for Economic Studies and Planning, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi)

Vote on the mind

Before the Centre announced PM-KISAN, many states and political parties had already latched on to similar schemes. Facing simultaneous elections in the state Assembly and Parliament, the Biju Janata Dalled Odisha government announced Rs 10,000 crore-Krushak Assistance for Livelihood and Income Augmentation (KALIA) scheme on December 22, 2018. It will help 5 million, or 92 per cent of the state’s families of small and marginal farmers, share croppers and the landless. KALIA provides Rs 10,000 per family per year, Rs 5,000 each for kharif (summer) and rabi crop seasons. There is also a proposal to provide Rs 12,500 annually to each landless agricultural household for initiating activities like goat-rearing, poultry, fishery, bee-keeping and mushroom cultivation.

Soon after, Congress president Rahul Gandhi promised Minimum Income Guarantee scheme. This was in addition to the universal farm loan waiver. It was speculated that the move was to dilute NDA government’s support scheme for farmers, already leaked out by the media. Before this, the Sikkim government promised the Universal Basic Income (UBI) programme and “one job for each household”.

Now, the West Bengal government has decided to pay the full premium of farmers’ agriculture insurance scheme. Immediately after the Interim Budget, Jharkhand became the first BJP state to declare annual cash assistance of Rs 5,000 per 0.4 ha to farmers. Earlier, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh had waived farmers’ loans.

The spate of announcements for farmers’ support coerces two key questions: is the money enough, and, can the schemes make a meaningful impact on farmers’ lives? Farmers and experts dissect NDA’s support to Rs 500 per month or Rs 3.30 per day (see ‘Sop to farmers for poll effect’) . They say the meagre help will just not make any impact. Yogendra Yadav, farmer leader who belongs to the political party Swaraj India, says, “It looks like transferring money to the poor instead of dealing with their genuine demand to get rightful price of their produce.”

Just like Sankariah, RBP came as a boon to Prabhakar A, a small farmer of Kondakindi Gudem village in Nalgonda. He received Rs 32,000 under the scheme, and used a large part of the money to buy farming inputs.

A farmer gets Rs 25,000 per ha of crop because calculations show this is the amount the farmer invests at the time of sowing, says C Parthasarathi, Telangana’s principal secretary of the agriculture department. “The government would continue to revise this upward based on increase in input costs,” he adds. The state has impressive data to back its scheme’s success. After RBP was implemented, paddy acreage shot up by 40 per cent. Kharif sowing increased from 0.75 million ha in 2017 to 1 million ha in 2018. Despite deficit rainfall, there was an overall 7 per cent rise in sowing area. Now, during the on-going rabi cropping season, these farmers are better placed to deal with financial distress.

Policy analyst Tankasala Ashok says, “Debt burden leads farmers to suicide. Debt is caused by three factors—failed borewells, failure of monsoon and unavailability of investment support. The scheme is aimed at reducing the financial burden on farmers.”

In Odisha, officials are in an emergency-like drive. With only two months for the embargo on poll campaigning, the state has galvanised the entire administrative machinery. Direct benefits are being transferred to farmers’ accounts at breakneck speed. Officials completed within a month the otherwise lengthy processes such as identification of farmers, receipt of application, rejection of bogus beneficiaries, and finalisation of the first phase of beneficiary list. The beneficiaries will get Rs 25,000 in five installments over three years.

Sharda Bai of Ghodakhurd village in Madhya Pradesh received Rs 300 per month for a year under India's pilot on Universal Basic Income programme.  She used the money to buy goats (Photo: Manish Chandra Mishra)

A bonanza too small

In Odisha’s Sambalpur district, Byomkesh Thakur, a small farmer, is happy with all the political attention farmers are getting. “But when life is debtridden, the small bonanza would neither ease the burden nor turn the fortune,” he says. “Never in my 20 years of farming have I witnessed a decline in input costs. The trend reverses when our agricultural produce reaches the market.”

To understand Thakur’s concern, it is essential to examine the investment a farmer makes in cultivation. To grow paddy, a farmer invests Rs 50,000 per ha, more than the Rs 41,000 assessed by Commission for Agricultural Costs and Price (CACP), a government agency. Operations begin by spending Rs 5,000 per ha on tilling. Preparation of seedbeds, use of fertiliser and insecticide and finally raising transplant seedlings require Rs 4,125. Farmers cough up Rs 7,000 for transplantation, Rs 8,250 for fertiliser and Rs 5,000 for weed management and supervision. Cutting and threshing take up Rs 11,750, while transportation can cost Rs 1,250. During the entire crop season, farmers spend a good amount in providing food to labourers. Every 0.4 ha yields 1.7 tonne paddy in Odisha, which would fetch Rs 28,000. “In ideal conditions, a farmer gets Rs 8,000 per 0.4 ha, but erratic weather conditions bring it down to below Rs 5,000 per 0.4 ha,” says Thakur. “The financial support will barely make a difference to my annual budget of Rs 1.50 lakh,” he says.

Preliminary observations of the farmers of Telangana and Odisha bring the focus back to the Centre’s scheme. There are fundamental differences in the parameters in the two states. In Telangana, farmers get cash support on the basis of landholding, and there is no cap on it. In Odisha, universal support provided to the farmers is irrespective of landholding. This means, even the share-croppers and tenant farmers will benefit. PM-KISAN is for small and marginal farmers, with 2 ha or less landholding. This excludes 14 per cent of the farmers, including tenant farmers and agriculture labourers.

The Centre estimates that its Rs 6,000 annual assistance can bear up to 40 per cent of the expenditure on inputs for farmers with 0.53 ha. Let’s take the example of paddy. As per CACP’s calculations, growing paddy in 1 ha costs Rs 41,000.

The Central scheme will give cash in three installments of Rs 2,000 each. So, a farmer who grows paddy in 1 ha will get only 15 per cent of the investment.

Farmers are the most risk-taking entrepreneurs. They invest, wait for four to five months, and then face a highly volatile market to earn back their investment. The cash support can cover a small part of the input cost, but cannot ensure the returns farmers demand. Even the minimum support price (MSP) the government offers as insurance against market fluctuation does not bring much solace. The annual CACP report on the price policy of rabi in 2018-19 shows that crops like pulses, rapeseed and mustard have never fetched prices above MSP. In fact, most farmers have sold their harvest below MSP. The price crash of gram and chickpea is most severe. In Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Chhattisgarh and Gujarat, the major producers of gram and chickpea, prices have never crossed MSP. In Uttar Pradesh and Telangana, prices went above MSP in 3 and 7 per cent days respectively. The trend was similar in rapeseed- and mustard-producing Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh. No farmer in these states ever got prices above MSP.

A recent report by global analytical firm CRISIL points out the denial of rightful income to farmers is the prime reason for the agrarian crisis that is sweeping the country. “While the average annual growth in MSP was 19.3 per cent between 2009 and 2013, it was only 3.6 per cent between 2014 and 2017,” the report states.

Agriculture and trade policy analyst Devinder Sharma says the Centre’s cash support to farmers is meagre, but the decision is a tectonic shift in economic thinking on the role of agriculture in development. Others, however, see it as a political decision. Pinaki Chakravarty, economist at the National Institute of Public Finance and Policy, says, “The government reached the figure after analysing the funds available, instead of brainstorming to help farmers.”

UBI can be a game changer
Experiments carried out in Indore have shown positive behavioural changes among people

Universal basic Income (UBI), if properly implemented, can transform people’s lives. An experiment carried out by Ahmedabad-based non-profit Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) between 2011 and 2013 in Madhya Pradesh’s Indore district showed positive results.

SEWA zeroed in on UBI and conducted research for 18 months to determine its feasibility. There was initial scepticism, as paying direct cash was never a part of our welfare culture. As part of the initiative, basic income was transferred directly into the bank accounts of beneficiaries across eight villages, while 12 were left out. The impact showed that majority of the beneficiaries (over 66 per cent) used the ready cash for constructive purposes. While some used the money to improve farm production, others invested in livestock. Education also became a priority and many families sent their children to better schools. As the UBI amount was fixed, it helped people plan investments in a smart way. A second pilot was also launched at the same time—the Tribal Village Unconditional Cash Transfer—where two similar tribal villages having SEWA presence were compared. While in one village everyone received basic income transfers, in the other no one did.

Illustration: Tarique Aziz
SEWA initially provided Rs 200 to adults and Rs 100 to children every month. After a year, the money paid to adults was hiked to Rs 300 and a half of it was paid to children under 18. As part of the tribal pilot, adults received Rs 300 and children Rs 150 for 12 months. As part of the impact, researchers found that the beneficiaries invested in sanitation and drinking water supply. Many used it to improve their household energy sources. In 2017, SEWA conducted another study to know the long-lasting impact, if any, of the pilot project in the two tribal villages. It was found that many of the behavioural changes like improved food consumption and the wish to seek better healthcare remained unchanged. Small farmers spent more time on their farms and stopped borrowing from money-lenders during the sowing season. Enterprises started by women continued to flourish. The residents even started a grain bank at the village level.

When former chief economic adviser to the Government of India Arvind Surbramanian wrote the 2018 Economic Survey, he was inspired by the SEWA study. Several states have realised the importance of cash transfer inspired by Telangana’s Rythu Bandhu and have come up with their own versions. In this year’s budget, the Union government announced PM-KISAN, which promises Rs 6,000 a year to landholding farmers with holding size of up to 2 hectares. As far as UBI is concerned, Sikkim is planning to roll it out by 2022. However, the crux is, though cash is important, the way it is paid really matters. The SEWA model ensured that the transfer was universal, individual, monthly, direct and unconditional. So, if Sikkim or any other state launches UBI, these principles should be followed in letter and spirit.

(The writer is vice-chairperson of the Basic Income Earth Network and the coordinator of India Network for Basic Income. He was also the research director of the SEWA study)

One step towards UBI

Gandhi’s announcement for minimum basic income to a set of people has revived an idea floated around two years ago. UBI got a new high in 2016-17 when Arvind Subramanian, the then chief economic advisor, dedicated a complete chapter to it in the Economic Survey. He called UBI “a powerful idea whose time, even if not ripe for implementation, is ripe for serious discussion”.

Analysts say farmers are not enthused by loan waiver. They want assured income and the right price for their produce. According to the Reserve Bank of India, rural wage has recorded only negative growth since November 2014. Thus, a direct and tangible income can help the rural population.

Subramanian has proposed “quasi-UBI” arguing that the annual transfer of Rs 18,000, or Rs 1,500 per month, can cover three-fourths of the rural population at 1.3 per cent of GDP or Rs 2.6 lakh crore at 2019-20 prices. The day Interim Budget was presented, he told the media that one or two states will soon adopt UBI. The Sikkim Democratic Front, governing the state since 1994, has promised to implement UBI by 2022.

Subramanian has drawn mostly from UBI’s pilot experiment in Madhya Pradesh between 2011 and 2013. Gujarat non-profit Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) conducted two studies, giving monthly cash unconditionally to a total of 6,000 individuals. The studies concluded that people are still reaping its benefits (see ‘UBI can be a game changer’, p43). In the first study, conducted over 17 months in eight villages, each adult was given Rs 200 per month, and children below 18 years received half of the amount. After a year, the amount was raised to Rs 300 and Rs 150. The conditions of people living in another set of 12 villages were compared with the eight studied villages in terms of asset building, increasing livestock, and expenses on health and education. In the second study, the non-profit picked two tribal villages. In Ghodakhurd, it gave Rs 300 to adults and Rs 150 to children for a year. The second village did not receive cash. Down To Earth visited Ghodakhurd and found cash benefits had clearly impacted the beneficiaries. Sharda Bai, in her 40s, used the cash to buy a goat couple. She reared them and soon, she had 15 goats. She sold them for Rs 10,000 and used the money in her daughter’s wedding. Radha Bai, 42, used the cash to buy an ox, a cow and a goat. Now, she also has a calf and five goats. She claims to have already sold 22 goats and earned Rs 25,000 from them.

The final report of the study states that 16 per cent of the households in the villages where cash was provided improved their toilets by the end of the project, compared to only 10 per cent in the control villages. One in every four households that received basic income started using better fuel for cooking and lighting. In comparison, only 10 per cent of the households in the controlled villages made that shift. In the tribal village, 16 per cent of households in the recipient category reported using a better cooking fuel and 14.5 per cent reported improving their lighting, compared to practically no change in the controlled village.

Not everyone is impressed by the findings of this project. “It is simple to understand the benefit,” says Jayati Ghosh, economics professor at the Centre for Economic Studies and Planning, School of Social Sciences, at the Jawaharlal Nehru University. “If you give money to one segment and keep the other deprived, it is bound to show some difference.”

People also fear that if UBI is implemented, the government may withdraw other welfare schemes to organise funds. “If leaders continue declaring such schemes, health and education sectors will suffer,” says Govinda Rao, emeritus professor, National Institute of Public Finance and Policy.

Global experiments

UBI is a global obsession with economists. One such experiment, touted as the largest and longest experiment with UBI, is being done in Kenya. The 12-year project, covering 20,000 recipients in 200 rural areas, offers each beneficiary 2,271.50 Kenyan Shillings, or $22, per month. Its design and amount has been carefully finalised keeping in mind the country’s income status.

The experiment, in its third year, aims to examine the major concerns over UBI. This year, the experiment is expected to fetch results on whether assured cash can have immediate effects in short term. Findings from a west Kenyan village do not indicate any negative impact. Nearly 95 per cent of the beneficiaries have reported that they continue to work the same, or even more. This debunks the surmise that assured income would lead to people preferring not to work and set in a lazy work culture (see ‘Cash will not make people lazy’, p46). It was reported that many bought fishing nets from the extra cash, while others saved a part of it to create financial security.

Telangana government gives farmers income support of  Rs  20,000 per hectare per year under its Rythu Bandhu Pathakam scheme (Courtesy: Government of Telangana)

Finland introduced UBI in 2017 with 2,000 unemployed youth. But the experiment failed as it proved much more expensive than the country’s other welfare schemes.

Switzerland, too, attempted the experiment by offering 2,500 Swiss Francs, or $2,555, to every adult. But 77 per cent people rejected the idea in a voting in 2016. Proponents of the scheme have now decided to execute the project in Rheinau village after 813 of its 1,300 people gave their consent to be part of the project.

Globally, unemployment has emerged as a serious challenge. In 2017, economists Carl Frey and Michael Osborne concluded that 47 per cent of the jobs in the US were at high risk of automation. The World Development Report 2016 asserts that 68.9 per cent of the jobs in India are at high risk. Business players, including Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg, say UBI is the only solution.

Abhijit Sen, member of the erstwhile Planning Commission, says there are three risks in implementing UBI—it can create avenues for corruption, take away funds from other welfare schemes and increase taxes. The country already has a model to ensure jobs—Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS). Combined with the several pension schemes, the total number of beneficiaries, as of February 6, is more than 35 million. Sen says the logical solution to the unemployment crisis is to expand MGNREGS and increase the existing pension amount.

Economist Arun Maira says MGNREGS gives money with dignity and creates assets. People can use these for their better future, he adds. There is a segment which is more concerned about the consumer’s reduced purchasing power because of unemployment, and not unemployment itself. “They want the government to give cash so that people can buy more products from the industry,” he says.

Cash will not make people lazy
Guaranteed income will unlock choices for citizens

There has been a public debate on Universal Basic Income (UBI) ever since the then chief economic advisor, Arvind Subramanian, proposed one in the Economic Survey 2016-17. In Sikkim, we feel that we have reached a certain level of development and can now roll out UBI.

When Chief Minister Pawan Kumar Chamling promised UBI if the Sikkim Democratic Front is voted back to power, he did not mean it as a dole, or a handout. UBI, in its most pristine form, has been defined by many thinkers. We will follow most of it. Every citizen—every member of a family—will be entitled to a certain income in his or her own right.

There, of course, will be a process in place. As the chief minister has already said, the scheme will start three years after the next government is sworn in. The state has high financial inclusion, and so the banking system will take care of the delivery mechanism.

Such an assured income will address issues related to equity in our society. It will also help work towards the United Nations-mandated Sustainable Development Goals. Take Goal No 13, the one on "climate action" for example: If someone wants to move from firewood to electricity, then UBI will help. Be it food security, education or health, UBI will tie in well with other measures taken by the government.

Illustration: Tarique Aziz
In this there will be no differentiation between the rich and the poor, as financial situations may change. The next phase of development will be knowledge-driven, which is bound to bring in Artificial Intelligence and robotics, impacting jobs. UBI is also for future-proofing. It will help distribute the large amount of money locked in the hands of the corporates.

Most welfare measures are targeted, except some like the Right to Education, healthcare, etc. But they can’t be the panacea to drive out all inequality. The state will follow a consultative plan based on our conditions and needs, so that UBI brings in some kind of a security into the lives of the citizens. This does not mean it will replace older welfare schemes like "one job per household". One or two of the targeted schemes, though, may be subsumed into UBI.

Some sections have misgivings about UBI: they think it will make citizens lazy. We disagree. At some point, we have to believe in our people. Sikkim has a high literacy rate and a guaranteed income will give these literate people more choice. For example, a child, who wants to take up music today may not have the means to sustain. But UBI will change that.

We are mindful that we must build a more productive state and will certainly promote a better work culture among our bureaucrats, like those who join under the "one job per household" scheme. UBI alone will not make everything hunky-dory. It will go hand-in-hand with other measures.

(As told to Joyjeet Das. The author represents Sikkim in the Lok Sabha)

 (This article was first published in Down To Earth's 16-28 February, 2019 print edition)

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