This implies that citizens who earn a very low level of income are actually paid a compensation or negative income tax instead of being made to pay tax. The latest Economic Survey discusses this concept of a negative income tax, but chooses to call it Universal Basic Income (UBI).
The Economic Survey has estimated that under UBI the coverage will be 75 per cent of the total population of the country. 25 per cent of the highest income earners will fall outside the purview of the UBI. As a rough estimate it has been calculated that about 5 per cent of the country’s GDP will be the cost of implementing UBI. It is the understanding that when UBI is implemented a large number of welfare schemes of the government will be done away with and this is how the resources to implement the UBI will be garnered. The Economic Survey identifies that there are about 950 large and small central and centrally sponsored schemes being implemented which could become targets for elimination when UBI is introduced.
The critics of UBI are of the view that at India’s stage of development time is not ripe to introduce the UBI. The size of population living below the poverty line in India is so large that it is estimated that the cost of implementing UBI will become prohibitive and our country cannot possibly afford it. Identifying the beneficiaries under the scheme will be another major hurdle. The poor in India, employed primarily in the informal sector maintain no record of their income and expenditure and there cannot be any foolproof method of identifying those who will qualify for UBI.
One of the benefits of UBI is that transfer payments under this scheme can be made directly into the bank accounts of the citizens which will be linked to AADHAAR and there will be very little scope for leakage and corruption. As against this most of the welfare schemes being implemented by the government are prone to leakages and mired under various types of malpractices. There is no guarantee today that the benefits from these schemes are actually reaching the intended beneficiaries. As against this benefits from UBI will be both direct and transparent.
Let us now see how a negative income tax can be actually implemented in India. First of all we should identify a large number of welfare schemes being implemented by the central and state governments which will become possible candidates for abolition. The total resources that can be garnered by abolishing these schemes should be worked out. Schemes such as Grameen Sadak Yojana and Mid Day Meals Scheme should not be chosen for abolition. This is because these schemes are meeting a particular need of society which will not be fulfilled by providing doles. Possible schemes for abolition would the ones like PDS, NREGA, schemes providing subsidy, a large number of tiny schemes and so on.
Once we determine the amount of resources that will be gained by abolishing a large number of schemes we determine how these schemes will be replaced by income transfer to the people at large through a negative income tax. Let us assume that the resources garnered amounts to 6 per cent of the country’s GDP of about Rs 130 lakh crores or Rs 7.8 lakh crores. If distributed equally among the population of 130 crore in the country each person will receive an income of Rs 6000 per annum or Rs 500 per month. It would be prudent to be modest and not over ambitious and a negative income tax of Rs 6000 per annum would be appropriate for the country to start with.
Let us now come to the problem of identifying beneficiaries. If debated this would become a sort of insurmountable problem leading to no consensus. Let us forget all problems of identifying beneficiaries and make the scheme universal. This means that even Tata and Birla and Ambani will get a negative income tax of Rs 6000 per annum. How do we justify the transfer of resources to the rich. The answer is that the rich citizens of the country are income tax payees and ultimately they will be paying much more than the partly Rs 6000 as income tax per year.
How do we take care of the population who doesn’t have bank accounts. The coverage of citizens with bank accounts has increased tremendously during the last 10 years or so. If it is announced that government is going to transfer Rs 6000 to bank accounts of all citizens some more people will open bank accounts. All difficulties in opening bank accounts should be removed such as stumbling blocks in the form of KYC requirements and so on. Ultimately, if there is still someone who is without a bank account it should be announced that such a person will not be covered by the scheme.
The coverage of the scheme will have to be universal. This would include rich and poor and also the young and old. Infants and minors can get entitlement through the bank account of their parents. Adults should be permitted to gain benefits through the bank account of their spouses. Old and infirm and disabled or insane if they are incapable of operating bank accounts should receive negative income tax through bank account of their close relative. In this way the negative income tax or UBI can become a reality.