India: The Indian government also promises basic income to farmers

India: The Indian government also promises basic income to farmers

Masked Narodi supporters, in 2014. Picture credit to: Aljazeera

Just a few days after Rahul Gandhi, leader of the Congress Party, announced the intention of implementing a “nationwide minimum income for the poor”, Prime Minister Narenda Modi’s government now proposes a “basic income for poor farmers”. This policy was set as a part of a supposedly interim budget, only up to the elections date (May 2019), although in this case expenditure was scheduled up to December 1st 2019, in a clear bet to win these elections and continue in power.

The cited interim budget was presented by (acting) finance minister Piyush Goyal, and the “basic income for poor farmers” is expected to affect millions of small farmers, who will be paid 6000 Rupees per year (84 US$/year), in principle as an unconditional cash transfer. 6000 Rupees averages around 3% of a typical family yearly net living wage (~183000 Rupees), and 6% that of a single adult (96900 Rupees). It is inferred that the hand-out to farmers would be to the farmer, as the owner of the land parcel, hence to his/her family. In this context, the policy promise is not individual (only if the farmer is single and has no dependent children), nor enough to cover minimum necessities (not basic), nor universal (only for farmers). The “basic income” term, therefore, is used by Modi’s government in a very loose manner, which might indicate more of an intent to get an electoral edge, particularly over the latest Congress proposal.

There is a general acceptance in India that transferring money directly to poor people avoids the corruption of the current subsidies system, and so such a policy as a kind of basic income makes sense to many. Unemployment is another important issue, but, interestingly enough, this might be ameliorated by the implementation of a basic income (type of policy), according to Gareth Price, from the Chatham House think tank. This is because direct, unconditional money in the pockets of people will most likely drive an economic expansion. Despite this reasoning, in other allegedly developed nations, such as France, the ability to work in paid jobs is still seen as central to the social contract. There, policy makers are more afraid people will just sit back and give up on contributing with their work to society, than they are confident that basic income will help those at the bottom of the income scale to fully participate in the economy, as workers and consumers.

More information at:

André Coelho, “India: Basic income is being promised to all poor people in India”, Basic Income News, February 1st 2019

Adam Withnall, “India budget: Modi announces universal basic income for farmers in bid for rural vote ahead of elections”, Independent, February 1st 2019

Expenditure and Living Wage calculation in India

André Coelho, “France: Law proposal to experiment with basic income rejected before even discussed”, Basic Income News, February 10th 2019

India: A Minimum Income Guarantee is being promised to the poorest 20% of the population in India

India: A Minimum Income Guarantee is being promised to the poorest 20% of the population in India

Rahul Gandhi. Picture credit to: The Wire

The main opposition party in India, the Congress party, has just promised to implement a “nationwide minimum income for the poor”, rolling out the unprecedent scheme starting as soon as May 2019, if it gets elected. The party’s president Rahul Gandhi, has announced this on Monday, while speaking to farmers in Chhattisgarh state, where Congress was elected after promising statewide loan waivers.

Critics from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), currently in power, dismiss this minimum income for the poor as a false promise from Congress, taken in a populist fever given the upcoming general elections, but Congress leaders have replied with the fact that they are fulfilling their promises on farm loan waivers in the states where they have been elected to recently. According to them, namely though BJP leader Ravi Schankar, this is just one more announcement, among many others which never saw the light of day. As Shankar speaks, though, regional leaders are fulfilling some of the Congress party regional electoral promises. Ashok Gehlot, just recently elected as chief minister of the Rajasthan region, India’s largest state located on the East side shouldered by Pakistan, just said on Monday that “whatever promises [Rahul Gandhi] made during assembly elections in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarth, we are fulfilling them, be it farm loan waiver or allowance to unemployed youths.”

Rahul Gandhi has firmly stated: “Nobody will remain hungry and nobody will remain poor as all poor people will be entitled to a guaranteed income. We will do this in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and all other states as well. All you have to do is to give us an opportunity”. Particulars have not yet been revealed (for instance, what are the parameters defining “poor” in India), but this announcement from Congress comes on the wake of the 2016-2017 Economic Survey, which suggested the implementation of a basic income to support the bottom 75% of the population in terms of income. In that document, the scheme’s realization would include the rollback of several (conditional) subsidies.

Running up these last months to the general election, spirits are agitated. There has been speculation on whether Narenda Modi and his government would attempt to implement a nationwide basic income on this week’s presentation of the interim budget, as a response to farmers protests all over the country. That led some to think that Ghandi’s move was meant as a strike to turn the table and get Congress one step ahead facing the impending elections. Could be. However, government officials are sceptical about how to finance such a bold policy, without cutting on State essential services and unleashing “runaway inflation”, which discourages the belief that government will make history in only three months.

As expected, the Congress party leadership was quick to support Gandhi’s announcement, with messages and statements from Chidambaram, Sheila Dikshit and Bhalchandra Mungekar, all Congress heavyweights (Chidambaram occupied ministerial positions for ten years, from 2004 and 2014, and Sheila was the longest serving Chief Minister of Delhi). Chidambaram as stated that “the poor in India have the first charge on the resources of the country and the party will find the resources to implement the promise of Rahul Gandhi.” He has been nominated the Congress Manifesto chairman for the 2019 elections, steady on the belief that “now we should make a determined effort to wipe out poverty in India”.

Chidambaram. Picture Credit to: The News Minute

Whoever gets to implement basic income in India, the proposal as it stands seems to be framed as a Negative Income Tax (NIT), since it is being direct to the poor. Arguably, the financing mechanism will expectedly use taxes and savings on welfare schemes to make direct cash transfers to those who fall below a certain poverty threshold. The next few months will be critical to Indian politics, and probably to the world’s social landscape. Right now, all eyes are on India. Sarath Davala, a long-standing basic income activist in India and internationally, has stated on Facebook:

“Indian National Congress, the main opposition party now announces Basic Income to the poor. Details are yet to be worked out. I cannot ask for more. Ironically though, our real challenge begins NOW – translating the idea plus evidence into concrete national policy without diluting the spirit of basic income.”

More information at:

Cherrupreet Kaur, “Rahul Gandhi’s mega poll promise: Minimum income for poor”, The Times of India, January 30th 2019

Rahul’s announcement of guaranteed minimum income ‘historic’: Chidambaram”, The Times of India, January 30th 2019

Rahul’s minimum income guarantee promise not meant to be implemented: BJP”, The Times of India, January 30th 2019

After Rahul, Sheila too promises ‘minimum income’”, The Times of India, January 30th 2019

India: Farmers distress political response, explained

India: Farmers distress political response, explained

Indian farmer pouring fertilizer. Picture credit to: The National

As indicated before, there is political movement in India in the direction of basic income. Particularly in the state of Telangana, which started the implementation of its Rythu Bandhu (Farmer Investment Support) program in May 2018. Other Indian states, namely Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, Odisha, and Chattisgarh, have also introduced farm support initiatives, but Telangana conveyed the novelty of unconditionality. Sarath Davala, Vice Chair of the Basic Income Earth Network (BIEN), and coordinator of the India Network for Basic Income (INBI), has written extensively on this matter, as well as contributed with clarifications and specifications on social media.

In a nutshell, the current Rythu Bandhu program in Telangana, features the following characteristics:

1 – It is universal. All farmers with a land property registration are entitled to 4000 Rupees (50 Euros) per acre per season, making it 8000 Rupees (100 Euros) per annum. Cheques or money transfers were made directly to farmers bank accounts;

2 – It is unconditional: no conditions were prescribed. The farmer needn’t even cultivate. It is left to the farmer what he / she wants to do;

3 – It is called Farmer Investment Incentive Scheme. It was not called welfare, but termed as an investment. This means that, unlike conventional welfare schemes, such as loan waivers or crop insurance scheme, it is not intended as a relief after a calamity has hit, but as an investment.

Telangana has also introduced state-financed life insurance for farmers, over 5,8 million potential beneficiaries, and covering a sum of 500 000 Rupees (6190 Euros). The annual premium, paid by the government, is to be 2000 Rupees (25 Euros). Normally, if anyone wanted life insurance, they would have to visit a particular website to buy a policy, but now, the government is implementing these policies themselves.

Kalvakuntla Chandrashekar Rao. Picture Credit to: Wirally

This first attempt at unconditionality has had its problems, though. The program was criticized for being regressive, since no account was made for redistribution of these benefits to farmers, and so rich farmers were also getting the money from the government. And, since these farmers owned more land, they receive a greater portion of the investment. Another downturn was that tenants, or landless farmers, haven’t benefitted from the program since these do not possess property rights.

To address this last problem, the state of Odisha has announced in December 2018, and will roll out the scheme between February and March this year, pretty much the same as in Telangana but including landless tenants, estimated to cover around 1 million people (and their direct families). Under Odisha’s scheme, there are also available loans (for crop) at zero interest rates. In Jharkhand, Odisha’s neighbour state up North, the farmer assistance plan also disburses a fixed unconditional value per acre of cultivable land, 5000 Rupees (62 Euros) per annum, directed at small farmers (owners of less than 5 acres), for the next 4 years, benefitting over 2 million workers. So, in Jharkhand, rich farmers will be mostly excluded from the scheme. On the border with Bangladesh, in the West Bengal state, the scheme is somewhat more complex. Starting in February 2019, there will be a crop insurance for farmers land, with the state covering its premium. Plus, the same cash transfer as in Odisha will be rolled out, but with spending conditions (on seeds, fertilisers, pesticides, etc.). On top of that, a life insurance similar to Telangana’s, but covering only 200 000 Rupees (2470 Euros). West Bengal state farmer support scheme is directed at an estimated population of 7,2 million small and marginal farmers.

Other states, like Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, have also announced and are implementing policies to help farmers, namely in-kind benefits and loan waivers. But, overall, and according to Sarath Davala, is it a very positive thing to “see a shift from many conditionalities to unconditional”. However, he points out that these policies should not be lightly called “basic income”, as they depart in several ways from definitions of basic income (as, for instance, that of BIEN). Telangana’s policy is neither individual (it is family-based), nor universal (only for farmers, and not even for all of them), nor basic (not enough to cover individual basic needs). However, it does go a step further as far as the unconditional part is concerned.

The State Bank of India (SBI) has also taken an interest in unconditional cash transfers to farmers, although at the expense of the universal basic income (UBI) policy, as presented in a recent report. The SBI confirms that unconditional cash transfers will have a more “meaningful impact” on farmers, than conditional policies applied up to now. However, it advices against UBI, stating that a “cash transfer scheme is always a better option than a UBI scheme. Many countries have found that UBI does not address the structural problems and is at best a solution in interregnum”. It remains unclear, though, how did the SBI found that one policy is superior to the other, in the lack of real UBI implementation around the world. Also, the SBI does not mention which “structural problems” UBI was found not to solve, and in which countries.

More information at:

André Coelho, “India: Telangana, unconditional cash transfer to farmers and more“, Basic Income News, January 21st 2018

Sarath Davala, “Why Narendra Modi May Answer Farmers’ Distress With a Basic Income Plan“, The Wire, January 11th 2018

Anshuman Kumar, “Farmers gain as schemes bring direct benefit to parties“, The Economic Times, January 18th 2019

Unconditional cash transfer to farmer better option: SBI report“, The Economic Times, January 22nd 2019

International: Basic Income Earth Conference 2019 announcement (update)

International: Basic Income Earth Conference 2019 announcement (update)

The structure of the Conference has been updated.

BIEN Civic Forum will be held on the 22nd of August. On this day, having been called “India Day”, two major plenary discussions will be held: one that focuses on the Indian state of Telangana and its policy initiatives related to basic income, and a second one about the more general debate at the Indian national level.

As for the Thematic Areas for Plenary Sessions, these have been improved and detailed, as follows:

  1. Ideological Perspectives and Diverse Worldviews on Basic Income

Exploring different ideological perspectives and worldviews that see an unconditional Basic Income as a desirable component of a more equitable and inclusive society

  1. Women’s Care and Unpaid Work: Is Basic Income an essential component of a new paradigm of Equity?

What implications and impact would basic income have on the lives women who constitute more than half of the global population? Can we talk of a sustainable society as long as we steal labor from women? Can an unconditional basic income remedy this structural inequity?

  1. Is Basic Income the Foundation of a Caring Economy and Society?

Is it possible to build an economy and a society that is based on values of caring, sharing and partnering rather than power, domination and control? Is an unconditional basic income an essential ingredient of such a society?

  1. The Emancipatory Potential: What forms of Freedom and what kind of Community Life does Basic Income promote?

Basic Income experiments across the world have demonstrated repeatedly that an unconditional basic income has a strong emancipatory effect of its recipients.  It loosens the constraints of existence and liberates the mind to seek a life and a community better than what we have now. What implications does this freedom and emancipation have on us and the communities that we dwell in?

  1. Basic Income, the Commons and Sovereign Wealth Funds

Our society privileges and celebrates private inheritance, but it equally turns invisible what can be called our public inheritance, and the fact that it is people who own natural resources and the state is just a custodian. This perspective if implemented can radically transform the way we view, manage and account for our natural wealth and endowments.

  1. BI Pilots: Opportunities and Limits of Evidence

In both the low-income countries and in high-income countries, there have been basic income pilot studies. While we already have the results of some of the studies, by mid-2019, we are likely to have more results. The Congress will deliberate both the results and also what they can achieve in terms of policy change

  1. Basic Income and Political Action: What does it take to transform and idea into policy?

It is one thing to have strong evidence from pilot studies and something else to get the acceptance of the policy makers and persuade them to act on it. There have been some pioneers among politicians and policy-makers across continents who have taken the plunge and implemented different versions unconditional income transfers, inspired by the spirit of the idea of basic income. Do we see them as first steps towards a full UBI? Or as distortions of the idea?

  1. Development Aid and Corporate Philanthropy: Is Basic Income a Better Paradigm and Way Forward?

In recent years, there has been a great deal of rethinking about the effectiveness of the current paradigms of giving aid either to countries or to communities. Unconditional Basic Income is increasingly emerging as a radical alternative to conventional notions of giving aid. We witness this shift as much within the UN think-tanks as that of corporate philanthropy.

As for thematic areas for concurrent sessions have been updated and completed:

  1. Ideological Perspectives on Basic Income
  2. Women’s Care and Unpaid Work: Is Basic Income the new paradigm of Equity?
  3. Basic Income in Development Aid Debate: Is there a Paradigm-shift?
  4. Religious Perspectives on Basic Income
  5. Basic Income as a Foundation of a Caring Economy and Society?
  6. What forms of Freedom and What kind of Community Life does Basic Income promote?
  7. Basic Income and Blockchain Technology: Are there Synergies?
  8. Basic Income, Poverty and Rural Livelihoods
  9. Basic Income, the Commons, and Sovereign Wealth Funds: Is Public Inheritance an emerging issue?
  10. Basic Income Pilots: Opportunities and Limits
  11. Basic Income and Political Action: What does it take to transform an Idea into Policy?
  12. Basic Income and Corporate Philanthropy: Is Basic Income a better paradigm and way forward?
  13. Basic Income and Children
  14. Basic Income and Mental Health
  15. Basic Income and Intentional Communities: What does this Experience Teach us?

There will also be a Short Films Exhibition, organized in partnership with Grundeinkommen Television (Gtv), which a is part of the Initiative Grundeinkommen, a pioneering civil society initiative established in 2008. Guidelines for submission:

  1. The length of the Film should be below 15 minutes;
  2. Your film should be made in 2018 or 2019 and be shown for the first time to a wider audience at the Congress;
  3. The film should be in English or with English subtitles;
  4. Entries should reach latest by 1st June 2019;
  5. A committee appointed by INBI will select the entries for exhibition at the Congress;
  6. Two of these selected films will be jointly rewarded INBI Short Film Prize of 500 US Dollars each.

For further information and to submit films, please contact Enno Schmidt, Chair of the Committee.

General registrations can be made here. For paper abstract submission (in MS Word document between 300 and 500 words), please email to:

The Congress is supported by:

LocalHi – travel and logistics

NALSAR University of Law

SEWA Madhya Pradesh


Mustardseed Trust


CEPS, Center for Ethics, Politics and Society

Gtv, Grundeinkommen Television

India: Telangana, unconditional cash transfer to farmers and more

India: Telangana, unconditional cash transfer to farmers and more

Road in rural India. Picture credit to: India TV.

Farmers in India are under considerable stress. Uncertainty regarding weather, yield, prices and revenue, create the perfect conditions for distress and fragility over the exposure to shark lenders. That also means that massive hunger is a risk just around the corner, and in a year of elections in India, its rural population (about 70% of total population) is repeatedly targeted for campaign purposes. Loan waivers, for instance, have been a pet political tool for election purposes, even though waivers haven’t traditionally helped small or marginal farmers (around 80% of all farmers).

To counteract this state of affairs, some states in India start to take matters in their own hands. The province of Telangana has been the first Indian state to provide and unconditional cash transfer to farmers. This, the decision of the Sikkim state to go forward with basic income implementation, experimentations popping up in several parts of the world (e.g.: Germany, Ukraine, United States, Spain), and some political support for basic income over central government in New Dehli, particularly after the 2016-2017 economic survey and its famous chapter on basic income, leads to renewed conversations in India.

In programs like this one, provocatively titled as “Government mulls universal basic income, is India ready for income for all?”, obstacles to basic income seem more in number and in size, than opportunities and benefits it can potentially provide. TV pundits take turns at criticizing the idea: it disincentivizes work, it is unaffordable, it is vague and populist, it cannot possibly be a replacement for long-time and traditional forms of help to those in need. However, simultaneously, some high placed economists and politicians see at least some advantages and viability in a basic income for all Indians, or directed to certain population cohorts (such as farmers). The dice are rolling.

Sarath Davala. Picture credit to: BIEN

Sarath Davala. Picture credit to: BIEN

Sarath Davala, coordinator at India Network for Basic Income (INBI), has written on Facebook: “Increasingly I am beginning to think that India could be the first country to take the plunge into a kind of Targeted Basic Income. It won’t be universal, but it will certainly be unconditional. The initiative is more likely to come from the provinces”. Guy Standing, also a long-time activist and researcher on basic income and someone who has been deeply involved in the Indian (basic income) experiments, has also pronounced himself at the onset of India’s first steps towards this revolutionary policy: “The beauty of moving towards a modest basic income would be that all groups would gain. That would not preclude special additional support for those with special needs, nor be any threat to a progressive welfare state in the long-term. It would merely be an anchor of a 21st century income distribution system. Will the politicians show the will to implement it? We need to see”.

More information at:

Why Telangana gave cheques to farmers instead of direct transfer”, rediff Business, May 11th 2018

André Coelho, “India: Sikkim state is on the verge of becoming the first place on Earth implementing a basic income”, Basic Income News, January 11th 2019

Guy Standing, “Basic income works and works well”, The Hindu, January 14th 2019