The people of India's happiest state are voting to decide who they want a UBI from


  • In January 2019, the Sikkim Democratic Front, announced that it planned to make a Universal Basic Income (UBI) policy a key part of its re-election manifesto ahead of state and national polls in April.
  • The proposal solidified the re-election chances of SDF leader Pawan Chamling, who is currently seeking his sixth straight term as the Chief Minister of Sikkim.
  • Even his regional rival, Bhaichung Bhutia’s Hamro Sikkim Party, has promised to implement the same scheme, saying that the state’s residents will get ₹18,000 per annum.
  • At the national level, the BJP and Congress have both proposed their own cash transfer and income support schemes in recent months.

In January 2019, the party in power in the Northeast Indian state of Sikkim, the Sikkim Democratic Front, announced that it planned to make a Universal Basic Income (UBI) policy a key part of its re-election manifesto ahead of state and national polls in April.

The proposal solidified the re-election chances of SDF leader Pawan Chamling, who is currently seeking his sixth straight term as the Chief Minister of Sikkim - which is considered India's happiest state.

Even his regional rival, Bhaichung Bhutia’s Hamro Sikkim Party, has promised to implement the same scheme, saying that the state’s residents will get ₹18,000 per annum. While the SDF has outlined plans to implement the policy in 2022, the HSP has said that it could start the payouts soon after elections.

At the national level, the BJP and Congress have both proposed their own cash transfer and income support schemes in recent months.

The concept of UBI will be a key issue on voters’ minds in Sikkim, which holds Assembly polls alongside Lok Sabha polls, as polling gets underway today.

Not new to India

India has had a number of small experiments with UBI but none that involved a state-wide approach. In 2013, the Self-Employed Women’s Association, an NGO, began a pilot in eight villages in Madhya Pradesh in tandem with UNICEF.

The results from the experiment indicated an improvement in living outcomes, especially for the poorest households, including a higher savings rate, nutrition intake and school enrollment.

However, one of the major arguments against the implementation of a national UBI policy in India is the country’s population. With 1.35 billion residents, a mere fraction of which pay taxes and a majority of which are informal workers, the numbers just aren’t in the country’s favour, especially as it tries to keep a ballooning fiscal deficit in check.

This is why the Congress and BJP have limited the scope of their UBI schemes, opting instead to target it towards specific sections of the Indian population. While the Congress’s scheme is aimed at the 20% poorest households, the BJP’s policy is only geared towards farmers.


A good testing ground

It seems that starting out small is the best way to approach the policy and hence, Sikkim does seem like an obvious place to implement the policy because its estimated to be India’s least populous state. According to the 2011 Census, it had only 610,577 residents, a number that should reach 700,000 by the time the scheme is implemented. This, coupled with a gross secondary enrollment rate of a little over 90%, make it a suitable candidate.

Sikkim also boasts the fiscal strength required for such an undertaking, being one of the few states to have recorded a revenue surplus from tax collections so far this year. In addition to rolling back social schemes and subsidies, it could rely on a tourism tax as well as profits from state-backed hydropower ventures to fund the scheme.



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