Why Arun Jaitley gave universal basic income a miss in Union Budget 2017

Indian politics currently lacks the maturity to give up subsidies for the greater goal of a universal basic income, says Arun Jaitley in a post-budget interview


Arun Jaitley  say s India cannot afford to offer both subsidies and UBI. Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint
Arun Jaitley say s India cannot afford to offer both subsidies and UBI. Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint

New Delhi: Indian politics currently lacks the maturity to give up subsidies for the greater goal of a universal basic income, finance minister Arun Jaitley said.

In an interview with DD News after presenting the Union budget for 2017-18, Jaitley said the country cannot afford to offer both subsidies and universal basic income. The Economic Survey presented in the Parliament on Tuesday had pitched the idea of a universal basic income.

“I think the Universal Basic Income is a wonderful idea. The Economic Survey is one of the best drafted documents I have ever read. (Chief economic adviser) Arvind Subramanian has put it as Gandhi’s conversation that the poorest must have some income. If you take all the subsidies that the State is giving—the LPG subsidy, the kerosene subsidy, the railways subsidy, fertilizer subsidy—add all these subsidies and instead of a subsidy give the poor a basic income cheque,” Jaitley said.

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However, he stated that Indian politics did not have the maturity to absorb the concept. “The difficulty is, India’s politics is yet to mature, and in politics that has not matured, you will have a demand that we must keep the subsidy coming and bring in UBI as well. If politics can mature, then Arvind’s idea will be brilliant. This idea merits serious discussion and its time should come if Indian politics is able to rise to a certain level of maturity then. Because, if other subsidies exist, then where are the resources to finance universal basic income?” Jaitley added.

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On demonetisation, Jaitley said the lack of any major protests against the move indicated cooperation from the public. “Common people have supported us graciously without asking for anything in return. I believe that demonetization was ideal. Was there even one major demonstration or unrest against demonetisation? Isn’t it true that 75% of the people supported it? It is true that cash as a way of life has changed today? Nobody will tell you that pay 40% cash if you buy property. People have started changing themselves and the long-term impact will be seen soon,” he said.

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With authorities trying to bring back liquor baron and former Kingfisher Airlines boss Vijay Mallya who left the country in March, Jaitley did not mince his words in the context of tax evasion. “I will not take any names, but for the defaulters of loans there is already a process of declaring someone a proclaimed offender. I have got an expert group informally looking at it and when it is ready I will put it in the public space,” he said.

Shreeja Sen contributed to this story.

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