Never miss a story

Get subscribed to our newsletter


×
The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party has dismissed it as a “false dream” being shown to the people and pointed out that there are already a number of social welfare schemes for the poor. VOA

In an effort to seize the initiative from Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, the main opposition Congress Party has held out the promise of creating the world’s largest “minimum income scheme” for nearly 250 million poor people if voted to power in general elections beginning in two weeks.

Critics have slammed it as a populist measure to entice voters and questions have been raised on the funding of a scheme estimated to cost $52 billion. The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party has dismissed it as a “false dream” being shown to the people and pointed out that there are already a number of social welfare schemes for the poor.


But the promise has turned the spotlight on an idea that is getting attention – an income for the country’s lowest economic strata.

“The final assault on poverty has begun,” Rahul Gandhi, the head of the Congress Party, said as he announced his pledge to give 20 percent of India’s poorest households, or 50 million families, a guaranteed income of about $1,050 a year.

Gandhi gave no details about how the ambitious project would be financed, but said that it would be fiscally prudent. “We’ve done all the calculations, we’ve asked the best economists.” It is being called “Nyay,” which means justice in Hindi.

Political analysts see the Congress Party’s announcement as a bid to outdo Prime Minister Modi, who last month announced a much more modest annual $90 cash handout for poor farmers. “The bigger the better in politics” was the refrain of many commentators.

Satish Misra, a political analyst in New Delhi, said the Congress Party’s promise would get resonance with tens of thousands of people disillusioned that the “good days” Modi promised when he came to power have proved elusive. “There is joblessness in the rural countryside, there is agricultural distress, people will look at this.”
Misra says it would bring attention back to bread and butter issues at a time when the ruling party has chosen to turn the focus on national security in the wake of recent tensions with Pakistan. “It would take the steam out of the external security narrative that the ruling party has been touting.”

A cross section of unskilled migrants from the countryside who flood mega cities like New Delhi and Mumbai in search of a livelihood say their principal challenge is not lack of an income, but meager wages.

“What I earn is barely enough to support me. I can’t think of any future,” said 36-year-old Parmanand Bhagat, who drives an electric rickshaw after trying his hand at two other occupations since he came from his village four years ago – working as a security guard and selling food on the pavement. “Only if I get some more money, I can plan ahead.”


Congress party General Secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra meets supporters as she arrives at Assi Ghat in Varanasi, India, March 20, 2019. VOA

Ramanand, a gardener who migrated three years back hoping to earn money to send back to his family in the village, faces the same challenge – his income of about $ 120 a month does not support their basic needs. “Buying enough food is a problem, clothing, education for my children, are also a challenge.”

The scheme has been announced at a time when the concept of a universal basic income has got attention in some developed countries such as Finland and France. In India, the debate has centered on giving an income to the poor. While a growing economy has rapidly lifted tens of millions out of poverty cutting the numbers of poor people by half since 2005, the country is still home to one-third of the world’s poor. Income disparities with its burgeoning middle class are huge. The country’s Economic Survey of 2016-17 studied the idea and even presented a model.

Economists say handing out a basic income to the poor would be viable if India phases out the hundreds of existing social welfare subsidies, such as cheap food for the poor, fertilizer subsidies for farmers and a rural jobs guarantee scheme that account for about 12 percent of the budget. Their success in tackling poverty has often been questioned: the subsidy programs are riddled with corruption and leakages.

But many caution that may never happen – the Congress Party has already said it will not end existing subsidies. “This will be an additional burden and can easily aggravate your financial situation,” warned Niranjan Sahoo at the Observer Research Foundation in New Delhi. He said it is very difficult to phase out existing subsidies. “For the simple reason, there will always be a strong vested constituency that would fight tooth and nail that it continues.”


Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses an election rally at Dumi village in Akhnoor, about 20 kilometers from Jammu, India, March 28, 2019. VOA

While the debate continues, the key issue as election campaigning reaches fever pitch is: will the poor in India be swayed with the lure of cash in their pockets? Many are cynical, calling it an election promise that will never see the light of day. Others say they do not want a handout but decent work.

ALSO READ: China to Put Chemical Industry under Tight Scrutiny and Regulation after Chemical Plant Explosion

“I want to be paid a better wage, around $200 a month. We can work hard,” said Lakshmi Devi, who has a young son and whose husband never holds down a steady job. Lakshmi, who works as a helper in an office earning about $120 is emphatic. “We don’t want doles.”

And gardener Ramanand feels a payout will not solve the challenge of a brighter future for his children. “It can make us happy for some time, but it is also true that we will still be troubled, there will still be sadness inside us.” (VOA)


Popular

Photo by Alexander Shatov on Unsplash

Twitter has confirmed that its algorithms amplify right-leaning political content.

By Nikhila Natarajan

In a continuing study on the effects of machine learning (ML) on public conversation, Twitter has confirmed that its algorithms amplify right-leaning political content. "In six out of seven countries - all but Germany - tweets posted by accounts from the political right receive more algorithmic amplification than the political left when studied as a group," Twitter blogged.

"Right-leaning news outlets, as defined by the independent organisations, see greater algorithmic amplification on Twitter compared to left-leaning news outlets." Since 2016, Twitter users are able to choose between viewing algorithmically ordered tweets first in their home timeline or viewing the most recent tweets in reverse chronological order.

"An algorithmic home timeline displays a stream of tweets from accounts we have chosen to follow on Twitter, as well as recommendations of other content Twitter thinks we might be interested in based on accounts we interact with frequently, tweets we engage with, and more. "As a result, what we see on our timeline is a function of how we interact with Twitter's algorithmic system, as well as how the system is designed."

The new research is based on tweets of elected officials of House of Commons members in Canada, the French National Assembly, the German Bundestag, House of Representatives in Japan, Congress of Deputies of Spain, House of Commons in the UK, and official and personal accounts of House of Representatives and Senate members in the US, as well as news outlets, from April 1 to August 15, 2020.

gold Apple iPhone 6s displaying Twitter logo Tweets about political content from elected officials, regardless of party or whether the party is in power, do see algorithmic amplification when compared to political content on the reverse chronological timeline. | Photo by Sara Kurfeß on Unsplash

Keep Reading Show less
Flickr

Snapdeal co-founder and COO Rohit Bansal on Friday lauded a man who facilitated 64 registrations for the vaccine on the CoWin portal.

Even as India celebrates reaching a milestone of 100 crore Covid vaccine doses, Snapdeal co-founder and COO Rohit Bansal on Friday lauded a man who facilitated 64 registrations for the vaccine on the CoWin portal. In a video shared on his Facebook and Twitter page, Bansal hailed Sonu Kumar as a "citizen celebrity".

Bansal said that Kumar not only helped "just co-workers and family but complete strangers too. With patience, empathy and uncanny jugaad". He added that Kumar joined him "many moons ago" and completed his open school from a parking lot.

"Education has helped this wonderful man enable others to get India back on track. Bravo! The CoWin portal on Thursday mentioned that a total of 100 crore vaccine doses has been administered so far to the eligible population under the vaccination drive in India, nine months after the nationwide inoculation programme was started to protect the people against Covid-19.

"It's a cause of significant celebration and happiness," Bansal said in the video. He said that while people just help a few around them, Kumar "bridged the digital gap" for 64 people, who were finding it difficult to register themselves online on the vaccine portal. Kumar said he doesn't feel that he has contributed much towards the 100 crore vaccine dose count. "I have been able to help only 64 people, if I was able to help more I would have been happier." (IANS/ MBI)


Keep Reading Show less
VOA

A health worker counts antiretroviral drug tablets for a patient at The AIDS Support Organization (TASO) in the capital Kampala, Uganda, July 12, 2012.

KAMPALA, UGANDA — Uganda has kickstarted a trial for the injectable HIV drugs cabotegravir and rilpivirine. Researchers and those living with HIV say the trial will likely end pill fatigue, fight stigma, improve adherence and ensure patients get the right dosage.

The two drugs have been in use as tablets. The World Health Organization last year licensed their use as injectables.

Keep reading... Show less