The revolutionary concept of universal basic income (UBI), propounded by Sikkim Chief Minister Pawan Chamling for his mountain state, is an important way of achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, whether it be poverty alleviation, food security, dignity, human resources development, participation in governance, cleanliness or climate change.P.D. Rai, the lone MP from Sikkim in the Lok Sabha, the lower house of the Indian Parliament, has said.
Rai said that the idea behind UBI is to give people of the state the chance to make better choices in life. “UBI is for every citizen of Sikkim, all Sikkimese people,” he said in interviews. With an area of just 7,096 sq km, Sikkim has a population of a little over 610,000 and a per capita income of Rs 88,000-plus. It is the least populous and second smallest among Indian states that is wedged between Nepal, Tibet (China) and Bhutan.
Rai said that the UBI concept is that every baby born in the state will start getting an income since birth. “Ours is a very proactive state and we rank among the top two or three states in the country in terms of income. We are looking ahead at changing the mindset of the youth.”
Sikkim has converted its agriculture into fully organic for which Chief Minister Chamling was honoured last year by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) at its Rome headquarters. It is also among India's most environmentally conscious states, having banned plastic water bottles and bags as well as public littering. It also calls itself a "beggar-free state".
Rai said there is a huge consultative process ahead of the scheme’s implementation. Referring to Prime Minister Narendra Modi government’s plan to give sops to distressed farmers and opposition Congress President Rahul Gandhi’s promise of a minimum income guarantee to the poor if voted back to power, Rai said that these were more reactive in nature because of the agrarian crisis in the country.
Chamling’s promise of implementing the UBI if the Sikkim Democratic Front is voted back to power is a gamechanger. Chamling has been been in power in Sikkim for a record 25 years.
But will this not make make people lazy? “Lazy people will be lazy people whether they get money or not,” Rai said. “That is why we are not calling it a grant but an income as this will trigger a different thought process. It is a leap of faith.”
He said that once people will know that a fixed income is coming to their bank accounts every month, they will be in a position to make better choices in life.
So, where will the funds come from to implement such an ambitious scheme? “It has to be tied to our own good resources,” Rai said.
“We have good hydropower, tourism, organic farming, and pharmaceutical companies too coming in. There will be a huge explosion of educational facilities and also medical tourism. Within these, we will find the funds.”
Rai explained that, for example, if a hydropower project is being set up in some part of the state and people in that area face the prospect of dislocation, they will not resist this as they will understand that it will be part of their UBI.
He said that in most of the world, wealth is concentrated on a few people. “But we are not thinking about the rest of the world or India, but just Sikkim,” he said.
So is rolling out a similar scheme pan India feasible? “I think if other states follow Sikkim’s example, it may be possible,” Rai said.
Universal Basic Income (UBI) is a form of social security that guarantees a certain amount of money to every citizen within a given governed population without having to pass a test or fulfill a work requirement. It has been proposed for the United States by Democrat Andrew Yang who is running for President in 2020 on the platform of Universal Basic Income. The UBI he is proposing is a set of guaranteed payments of $1,000 per month, or $12,000 per year, to all US citizens over the age of 18 because, as he sees it, in the next 12 years, 1 out of 3 American workers is at risk of losing their jobs to new technologies. And, unlike with previous waves of automation, this time new jobs will not appear quickly enough in large enough numbers to make up for it.
"To avoid an unprecedented crisis, we’re going to have to find a new solution, unlike anything we’ve done before," contends Yang.