Congress president Rahul Gandhi has certainly stolen a march over prime minister Narendra Modi in announcing some version of a Universal Basic Income (UBI)\u2014he has spoken of a Minimum Income Guarantee (MIG) for the poor\u2014and, given the rush to make announcements for farmers, especially after the last round of assembly elections, chances are the government will outline its plan in the budget. Details of Gandhi\u2019s scheme are yet to be fleshed out, but if it is aimed at the poor as defined traditionally, by the Tendulkar poverty line, the scheme may not be that big given how the number of poor continues to fall; it could, though, be aimed at the bottom 15-20% of the population to get more traction. Modi\u2019s scheme, on the other hand, is expected to be aimed at the country\u2019s farmer population, but whether this is to cover all farmers or just those below a certain size is not clear; while Telangana\u2019s Rythu Bandhu is criticised as being pro-rich-farmers, Odisha\u2019s Kalia is supposed to take care of this by targeting even the landless. But while talk of a UBI, or a modified UBI, has become commonplace, nothing helps increase well-being more than economic growth and jobs. A UBI, then, is at best a partial solution to alleviate hardship, it cannot be a substitute for free markets or high economic growth and employment prospects. Based on OECD-Icrier analysis of farmers getting 14% less than global prices due to markets not being free in the country in FY01-17, for instance, this means farmers lost around `2.5 lakh crore this year; no estimate of possible UBI for the farm sector is even close to this number. Similarly, if a Rs 1,500 per month UBI is given per family, this is at most equal to a few days\u2019 wages for a family. Indeed, one of the problems with the MIG for the poor is that, in critical ways, it resembles the plethora of anti-poverty schemes of the type Indira Gandhi popularised since those availing of it will have to prove they earn less. So, it is going back to fudging income certificates as, the less you earn, the more MIG you will get. Apart from this, whatever schemes are announced, by either the government or the Opposition parties, need to fulfil two criterion to be useful\u2014they mustn\u2019t be easily cornered by the rich in the manner that farm loans, wheat\/rice procurement and fertiliser subsidies are today and, two, they have to be financeable. Income transfers to replace food subsidies will save at least `50,000-60,000 crore a year without leaving anyone\u2014except those who live off the waste in the FCI system\u2014worse off. Even if 80 crore persons covered under the food security Act\u2014excessive by any yardstick\u2014are given `25 per kg as the difference between the ration- and market-price for each of their 5 kg monthly wheat\/rice entitlement, that will still cost just `120,000 crore as compared to `170,000-180,000 crore spent on food subsidies right now. Similarly, the `70,000 crore of annual fertiliser subsidies and `15,000 crore of interest subvention on crop loans can easily be added to the UBI kitty since, instead of just the top 20-30% of farmers getting them as they do right now, the money can be given to all farmers. Sadly, while the government seemed to be moving towards a UBI with its direct benefits transfer (DBT) scheme\u2014these rose from `7,368 crore in FY14 to `231,732 crore so far in FY19\u2014it hasn\u2019t moved to cash transfers from physical transfers of food and fertilisers. Doing so would not only save money, it would also remove distortions in market pricing. Cropping patterns, then, will no longer be distorted by government procurement or MSPs, nor will water-intensive crops be grown in unsuitable areas due to the availability of almost-free electricity and water in some states; and, with fertiliser prices rising, farmers would use them judiciously, and even import them if that is cheaper. In short, UBI is Modi\u2019s window to sweeping agriculture reform with the added advantage of helping small and marginal farmers as well.