India Today - - UPFRONT - By Sh­weta Punj

An­nual eco­nomic sur­veys are dry doc­u­ments, in­tended to sum­marise the year gone by and point at the di­rec­tion the econ­omy is tak­ing. Arvind Subra­ma­nian, the Chief Eco­nomic Ad­vi­sor, has more am­bi­tion, as in­di­cated by the sprightly phras­ing, the block­buster quo­ta­tions, and in­trigu­ing chap­ter ti­tles. What, for in­stance, to make of ‘Uni­ver­sal Basic In­come: A Con­ver­sa­tion with and within the Mahatma’?

UBI, Subra­ma­nian writes, is an “idea whose time has come per­haps not for im­me­di­ate im­ple­men­ta­tion but at least for se­ri­ous pub­lic de­lib­er­a­tion”. What would the Mahatma do, he asks, be­fore concluding that he would, de­spite some philo­soph­i­cal con­flicts, en­dorse the idea that ev­ery ci­ti­zen of the coun­try should re­ceive the min­i­mum amount needed for basic needs.

Ac­cord­ing to the eco­nomic sur­vey, UBI would cost be­tween 4 and 5 per cent of the GDP. Subra­ma­nian is un­equiv­o­cal that UBI would not be an ad­di­tional scheme but a re­place­ment. In ef­fect, it would be the only scheme, with ben­e­fi­cia­ries re­ceiv­ing money di­rectly. There are some 950 schemes and sub-schemes that ac­count for 5 per cent of the GDP, of which the top 11 alone ac­count for some 50 per cent of the money avail­able. The schemes are labyrinthine and still the poor­est are of­ten ex­cluded. An es­ti­mate from 2011-2012 sug­gests 40 per cent of the bot­tom 40 per cent of the pop­u­la­tion are ex­cluded from the pub­lic dis­tri­bu­tion sys­tem.

Still, just days be­fore Subra­ma­nian pre­sented the

A 2011-12 es­ti­mate says the PDS ex­cludes 40% of the bot­tom 40% of In­dia

sur­vey, Arvind Pana­gariya, vice-chair­man of the Niti Aayog, ar­gued that In­dia did not have the fis­cal re­sources to im­ple­ment UBI for all cit­i­zens. He pegged the cost at Rs 15.6 lakh crore a year. Dur­ing 2016-2017, the Cen­tre es­ti­mates it will spend Rs 2.5 lakh crore on sub­si­dies and a fur­ther Rs 38,500 crore on the ru­ral em­ploy­ment guar­an­tee pro­gramme.

The re­sults of two pi­lot projects in Mad­hya Pradesh have been promis­ing, with the monthly cash pay­ment lead­ing to im­proved health and nutrition. But other schemes, in Puducherry for in­stance, have re­vealed weak­nesses. “The ir­re­sistible force of even as pow­er­ful an idea as UBI”, Subra­ma­nian cau­tions, “will run into the im­mov­able ob­ject of a re­sis­tant, pesky real­ity.” And the real­ity of In­dia rep­re­sents a for­mi­da­ble bar­rier.


STATE OF THE NA­TION: Arvind Subra­ma­nian presents the Eco­nomic Sur­vey

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