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SDF, HSP promise to execute basic income scheme

 GANGTOK, March 28 - The Universal Basic Income (UBI) scheme has emerged as a key issue in the run-up to the simultaneous Assembly and Lok Sabha polls in Sikkim with the ruling SDF and the HSP, headed by the country’s former football captain Bhaichung Bhutia, promising to implement it, if elected to power.

However, the Sikkim Krantikari Morcha (SKM), the main Opposition party in the State, is opposing the introduction of the UBI on the ground that it was not possible to execute it as the State “already has a huge debt”.

The UBI is a fixed amount of income transferred by the Government to every citizen’s bank account irrespective of his economic wealth and employment status.

It was Sikkim Democratic Front (SDF) parliamentarian PD Rai who had said in January that his party proposed to implement the UBI to provide regular income to “poor” families.

Rai, a two-term Lok Sabha MP, had said that his party would put out the details of the UBI in its election manifesto.

“The scheme will be rolled out by the SDF Government headed by Chief Minister Pawan Kumar Chamling, if the SDF wins the election,” he had said.

Pointing out that the UBI should not be looked at as a “sop”, the MP had said the scheme would “work well for the youngsters” because “it would give freedom to choose their work, it will be more futuristic and it will serve as a future production tool. Young people can look into the future without worrying too much about income.”

Rai reiterated his take on the UBI scheme on Wednesday pointing out that the State Government proposed to provide a “regular income and not grants” to the poor and youngsters. “The details will be there in the ruling party’s election manifesto,” he said.

The Chief Minister, who is leading his party’s election campaign for the sixth consecutive term in power in Sikkim, has also touched on the UBI on several occasions but refrained from going into specifics of the scheme.

The Hamro Sikkim Party (HSP), in a deft political move, has surprised all by announcing to roll out the UBI, under which a Sikkimese family of five will be given Rs 90,000 per annum, if voted to power in the Assembly polls.

“Rs 18,000 per annum or Rs 1,500 per month to be paid to every Sikkimese man, woman, child, student and youth who reside in Sikkim,” says the HSP manifesto.

“For a family of five, this will be Rs 90,000 per annum or Rs 7,500 per month. What previous SDF Government could not do in 25 years, will be done in 25 days, “ the HSP promises in an online advertisement.

While the ruling SDF and HSP seek to ride their election campaign on the UBI scheme, the opposition SKM refuses to buy the bait on the populist scheme saying that Sikkim does not have the revenue or resources to bear the burden of the scheme.

“The UBI scheme is not a feasible idea in Sikkim, given that the Chamling Government has piled up a debt of over Rs 50,000 crore,” SKM spokesperson Jacob Khaling Rai said.

Given the financial condition of Sikkim, the UBI scheme is “neither affordable not sustainable”, he said. The SKM will not seek to “fool” the people by promising something which it cannot deliver, he said. Elections will be held simultaneously for the 32-member Assembly and the lone Lok Sabha seat in Sikkim on April 11. – PTI

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