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Days before 2019 Lok Sabha election, Congress president Rahul Gandhi today (Monday, March 25) announced what he called a “historic” minimum income guarantee scheme – based on the concept of universal basic income (UBI) – assuringRs. 72,000 a year for India’s poorest families if the Congress wins the elections.

The Congress president had announced plans for coming up with a minimum income guarantee scheme in January. It was discussed during the Congress Working Committee meet at Ahmedabad earlier Ahmedabad, where Rahul’s sister and Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra had suggested that the scheme be named NyuntamAay Yojana (NYAY, in short, meaning ‘justice’).

“It is not acceptable to the Congress that there is poverty in India in the 21st century. The final assault on poverty has begun,” said Rahul Gandhi making the announcement soon after the Congress Working Committee meeting for finalising the party manifesto.

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The money will be directly transferred to the bank accounts of 20 per cent of the poorest in the country. The scheme, said the Congress president, would lift five crore families or 25 crore people out of poverty.

NYAY will ensure that the poorest of the poor families get an income of Rs. 12,000 per month.Explaining the scheme, Rahul Gandhi said, “Minimum income threshold is Rs 12,000. Any family earning less than this, the government will pay the difference.”

If a family earns, say, Rs. 6000 per month, the remaining Rs.6,000 will be credited to their account. If a family reaches the threshold, they will not be eligible for the scheme.

Calling it “an extremely powerful, dynamic, well thought-out idea”, Gandhi said the party consulted with numerous economists before making the announcement.

“We have taken into account the fiscal repercussions… it is entirely possible,” he said.

Gandhi insisted the Congress had done its homework. “We have checked it again and again and again. It is fiscally, perfectly possible.”

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“We committed MGNREGA (rural job guarantee scheme), we did it. We will eradicate poverty from India,” he said. The Congress leader said the job guarantee scheme had pulled out 14 crore people out of poverty. That, he said, was the first phase.

“In the second phase, 25 crore people will be pulled out… It is an extremely powerful, dynamic and extremely well thought-out idea… We have done the calculations,” he said.

The Congress, if voted to power, plans to implement the scheme in a phases beginning with a pilot project.

The scheme is widely seen as a version of universal basic income (UBI), a concept that entitles families to a certain threshold sum of money regardless of whether they work or not.

UBI first became part of the official discourse when the country’s then chief economic adviser Arvind Subramanian proposed it in the Economic Survey 2016-17. But the government did not pursue it.

The income guarantee plan fits with Rahul Gandhi’s campaign pitch that targets Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the ruling BJP, accusing them of working for the rich and for rising joblessness which has left millions of Indians struggling.

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