'Eve of elections is appropriate time to throw up new ideas'

'Minimum Income Guarantee is progressive scheme for the poor'

The Congress has come up with an idea of Minimum Income Guarantee (MIG) to counter NDA's Universal Basic Income (UBI). In a candid interview with DH's Annapurna Singh, former finance minister P Chidambaram says MIG will not mean discontinuation of MNREGS, food, fertilizer and other subsidies.

Excerpts

What is the difference between your MIG and Arvind Subramanian's UBI?

Minimum Income Guarantee (MIG) Scheme is very different from the Universal Basic Income (UBI) model although there are commonalities. Firstly, UBI is universal, everybody will receive money; under MIG, only the poor households will receive the money. Secondly, under UBI, everyone will receive the same amount of money;

MIG will be progressive in the sense that each poor household will receive the necessary amount of money to bring the household’s income to the desired minimum level.

Arvind Subramanian's paper on QUBRI and Congress announcement of MIG. Were these two co-incidental?

I think it was purely a coincidence. But we are happy that the former Chief Economic Adviser is researching and explaining the idea of ‘money transfer’ as an instrument of eliminating poverty.

Was MIG announcement a pre-emptive strike in anticipation of a similar move by the Modi government. How will you generate the resources required?

I did not hear that the BJP-NDA government was contemplating anything like UBI or MIG. I heard that they were considering copying the Telangana model of giving a fixed sum of money per acre to the landowners.

Given the size of our GDP and the size of our annual budgeted expenditure, we are confident that we can find the resources within the country to implement the scheme.

Arvind says Rs 18,000 per annum for every Indian will cost Rs 2.46 lakh crore. What is your estimate?

Subramanian’s calculation is based on UBI.

The MIG will cover only the poor rural and urban households in the country. We are confident that we will get the math right.

Will it be universal in your scheme of things?

As I said earlier, the MIG will not be universal. MIG a will be targeted to the poor urban and rural households.

How will you identify poor to implement this scheme? Will it affect subsidies given under MNREGS, food security, fertilizers and mid-day meal among others?

There is ample data to identify the poor. There is the SECC report. There are other databases. We will gather all the data that will be available in June 2019. We will, in consultation with the state governments, establish the criteria for identifying poor households.

Other subsidized programmes have other specific objectives and as long as those objectives are being served/fulfilled, those programmes will continue. But some programmes do outlive their utility over a period of time.

What made Congress change its stance on UBI as it had expressed reservations when it was first mooted by Arvind in the Economic Survey of 2016-17?

I do not recall that the Congress expressed reservations when UBI was mooted. We wanted a healthy debate. Hence, there is no change of stance. I remember I had said that the champions of UBI should do research and address the challenges thrown up by the UBI.

There is an argument that ahead elections, political parties talk of big social measures but turn capitalist when voted to power?

Doing economic reforms will be the best ‘socialist’ measure because reforms will increase wealth and increase the per capita income of the people. Congress, the original party of reform, will continue to advocate the cause of economic reforms.

But reforms for whom? For what? If we leave the poor behind, to what purpose are economic reforms? The Congress manifesto will establish its commitment to both reforms and welfare. The eve of elections is the appropriate time to throw up new ideas and debate those ideas.

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'Minimum Income Guarantee is progressive scheme for the poor'

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