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Why India Is Ready for a Universal Basic Income

How It Could Cut Poverty and Bureaucracy

Flood-affected villagers run to collect food packages and relief materials dropped from an Indian Air Force (IAF) helicopter in the flood-hit area of Shivijinagar village in Samastipur district, August 10, 2007. Jayanta Shaw / Reuters

In India, it is not unusual for the rich to receive more welfare money than the poor. As India’s Finance Ministry noted in its annual economic survey released in January, the problem is “almost intrinsic” to the country’s anti-poverty and social programs. Much of the money is funneled through India’s convoluted bureaucracy and ends up “leak[ing] to non-poor and…corrupt local actors.” But a new idea, the ministry suggests, could ensure that funds for the poor actually reach the poor: a universal basic income.

The decision to simply hand out cash to everyone is not new and, of course, quite political. In 2013, the Indian government had also toyed with a variant of universal basic income known as “direct cash transfer,” but it never took off because of the difficulties in determining who should receive such payments. But setting all that aside, the concept of universal income

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