Rahul Gandhi’s brainchild NYAY (Nyuntam Aay Yojana) or Minimum Income Support Program which was the thrust of the Indian National Congress Party’s campaign in the last Lok Sabha elections of 2019 came back into focus in the Corona backdrop. Debates and Discussions on NYAY dominated television space that perhaps India desperately required a social security net for its below poverty line citizens. The serpentine flow of the village bound desperate penniless migrant workers on the highways of India in the aftermath of the sudden lockdown and the recent protest of migrant workers in Surat ( Gujarat) and Bandra ( Mumbai ) is a rude awakening for any government to pull up its socks, do a reality check on the lack of safety net for our impoverished low income daily wage earners and our unemployed population.
What was NYAY ?
Between 2004 and 2014 the Congress led UPA Government had managed to lift 14 crore people out of poverty and with NYAY the objective was to eliminate abject poverty by the year 2030. NYAY would have brought into its ambit 5 crore families from among the poorest of the poor. Each family would have been guaranteed a cash transfer of Rs 72,000/- a year. The money would have been transferred to the account of a woman of the family. NYAY was planned keeping in mind the size of India’s GDP and the level of Total Expenditure (Central and State Governments) which would have made it possible to implement NYAY ‘without, in any way, affecting the goal of fiscal prudence’. A gradual implementation plan was also chalked out in phases – Design phase (3 months), Pilot and Testing phases ( 6-9months) and finally roll out which would also have been in phases. The estimated cost was planned at 1% of GDP in the first year, 2% of GDP in second year and ‘as the nominal GDP grew and families moved out of poverty the cost would decline as a proportion of GDP.’ An independent panel of eminent economists and social scientists would have supervised the NYAY program right from design to final roll out. Had Congress won the 2019 Lok Sabha elections NYAY would have been a reality by now and could have provided the safety net for its below poverty line citizens and understandably would have been a saviour for many families amidst the Corona crisis.
Developed countries around the world have social security measures for their citizens. The United Kingdom has the Job Seekers Allowance and Low Income Benefits. Many European countries have Family Allowance Benefits which are paid monthly. Single parents receive extended child benefits. In Denmark citizens can claim social assistance if they undergo a challenging social change like unemployment, illness or divorce due to which they are no longer capable of supporting themselves or their family. Such benefits in many European countries are given apart from the usual free education of their children, health insurance, maternity benefits, old age pensions etc.
Just as it is the duty of any government to provide basic amenities of water, electricity and roads to its citizens so also is the responsibility of any government to provide required social security benefits to its citizens. These are not to be considered as doles but are rights of every citizen. In a highly populated country like India it is not possible to extend such benefits to all its citizens, hence it should be the goal of any political party to see that at least the underprivileged section of the population is covered with a social security net.
The Corona challenge is a wake up call for the Government to put in place a permanent safety net for the poorest of the poor of our country. And NYAY is one such scheme that can be implemented even at this juncture. As it is many previous UPA schemes have been carried forward by the NDA Government at the Centre as governance is a continuous process. Of course one must admit that the party in power have very intelligently repackaged these with populist names over the previously slightly bureaucratic flavoured titles that would easily reside in a common man’s psyche! Nearly 32 of such UPA schemes have been repackaged and renamed. For instance, the 2013 Nirmal Bharat Abhigyan became the Swatch Bharat Mission. The 2010 Free LPG Connection to BPL Families became the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana. The 2008 National Girl Child Day program became the Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao Yojana. The 2011 National Manufacturing Policy became Make in India. The 2010 National Skill Development Program became Skill India and so on and so forth.
The Government announcement of an economic package of RS 1.70 lakh crore distributing free food grain and cooking gas for three months is a temporary measure to tide over the immediate Corona virus crisis but that will not sustain for long. In these unprecedented times India desperately needs a permanent scheme like NYAY to give respite to its underprivileged population. It should not matter now that NYAY is the brainchild of Congress leader Rahul Gandhi or that it is a scheme that is close to his heart. It should not matter now that Rahul Gandhi in his 2019 campaign said ‘NYAY will restart the economy the way a key starts a car, that it will revive an economy hit hard by demonetisation.’ It should not also matter now that Rahul Gandhi was the first Indian politician to warn the Government about the Corona Threat as early on in February 12th 2020 that the “Corona Virus is an extremely serious threat to our people and our economy. My sense is the Government is not taking it seriously. Timely action is critical”. It should not matter now that Rahul Gandhi had repeated his warning of an ‘economic Tsunami’ on 12th March 2020, being the only voice of the opposition to do so. It should not matter now that he said ‘ Clapping will not help them. Today there is need for cash relief and tax sops, besides relief in repayment of loans as part of a big economic package. Take immediate steps.’ It should not matter now that Rahul Gandhi had called for more planned approach to lockdown and said that ‘ the lockdown will devastate our poor and weak. It will deliver a heavy blow to the India we love. India isn’t black and white. Our decisions have to be carefully thought through. A more nuanced and compassionate approach is required to deal with this crisis. Its still not too late.’
Indeed it is still not too late to implement NYAY. What matters now is a scheme like NYAY which is expedient for the daily wage earners of our country and it should be implemented fast and quick. If serving the people of the nation is the overriding goal of any political party it should not matter who gave birth to NYAY.
(Bobbeeta Sharma is a senior Assam Congress leader, a former actress, television producer and before that a beauty queen. She is also author of a well acclaimed book on Assamese cinema and was chairperson of the Assam Film Development Corporation)