The government should convert the PM-KISAN programme to a Universal Basic Income (UBI) scheme that includes other weaker sections such as farm labourers, construction workers and non-farm labourers, Niti Aayog member Ramesh Chand said on Thursday. Other subsidies could be subsumed with UBI later stage, he added.
Ahead of the Budget for 2023-24, Chand’s comment reignites the UBI debate floated in the Economic Survey for 2016-17 by then chief economic adviser Arvind Subramanian and later by a report commissioned by the Economic Advisory Council to Prime Minister (EAC-PM).
“My personal view on this is that this country should ultimately move in the direction of UBI. We are giving (income support) to farmers, but not to agricultural labourers, construction workers and non-agricultural labourers, who are in very sizeable numbers,” Chand said. “Everybody who satisfies some criteria such as people exempt from income tax or total income up to a threshold should be given the support,” he added.
Under Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi (PM-Kisan) launched in February 2019, Rs 6000 is annually transferred to each farmer’s direct benefit transfer (DBT)-linked bank account in three equal instalments, irrespective of their land holdings. The number of beneficiaries crossed 110 million from 31 million at the beginning of the scheme.
In over 3 years, financial assistance of more than Rs 2 trillion has been provided to needy farmers under the PMscheme, which came in handy for farmers to deal with financial distress during the lockdown due to the Covid pandemic in 2020. The government has allocated Rs 68,000 crore for PM Kisan in the current fiscal.
The Economic Survey 2016-17 indicated that the UBI deserves a careful examination. The move, aimed to wipe out poverty in the country, will bring down the poverty level to 0.5% in the country but will cost 4-5% of the gross domestic product, the Survey noted. From 70% at the time of Independence, India’s poverty has come down to about 20%. It had said that the idea was for UBI to replace all subsidies and provide cash direct benefits to individuals to push them out of poverty.
A report commissioned by EAC-PM and published in May 2019 suggested the government roll out a UBI scheme to reduce stark income gaps.
According to an impact assessment by the International Food Policy Research Institute, PM-KISAN greatly addressed the liquidity constraints of farmers for buying agricultural inputs, daily consumption, education, health and other incidental expenses.