Situated in the mountains of the Himalayas, Sikkim is one of the smallest states in India but also one of the most advanced. The illiteracy rate is just 2%, every citizen has a guaranteed residence and only the 8% of people live under the line of poverty compared to the national average of 30%.
Sikkim is at the forefront of ecology as well: it is among the first Indian states banning, in 1998, plastic bags and recently – unique case in the subcontinent – eliminated the use of pesticides and fertilizers. A story of innovation that Sikkim now wants to consolidate with what will be the world’s largest basic income experiment.
About universal basic income: what is it?
The basic universal income is a periodic cash payment unconditionally delivered to all citizens without economic requirements. In the United States it is a hot topic, it entered the Democratic primaries, and in Europe, members of the technological community, such as Elon Musk and Bill Gates, consider it as necessary. They think automation and artificial intelligence will make many jobs no longer needed and that it is therefore necessary to eliminate future material poverty. However, the experiments carried out so far in Finland and Ontario had no positive outcome and they interrupted them because, as the detractors claim, they have proved too expensive and not helping people to find a job.
The situation in India
The logic behind India is different. “In developed nations, the main goal is to restructure or make existing welfare systems, such as unemployment benefits, more economical,” explains Pranab Bardhan, an economist at the University of Berkeley.
“In middle or lower-income economies, such as India, the goal is to minimize the economic insecurity of a large part of the population, not just the poorest, without affecting existing measures to support poverty”.
In India, corruption and administrative inefficiency heavily shape the wide range of social programs, literally making sums allocated disappear. This is why two years ago the Indian Ministry of the Economy indicated a possible solution in the basic universal income.
Sikkim, a new world-wide universal income experiment?
How can the Sikkim government find the resources to pay a basic income to 610,577 citizens starting from 2022? P.D. Rai, the only representative of Sikkim sitting in the Indian Parliament, asked by the Washington Post, gave no answer. However, Sikkim has a thriving economy, thanks to the tourism sector, (one million people visit the state each year) and the hydroelectric sector that exports 90% of the energy produced. However, it must be pointed out that the announcement passed from the outgoing government shortly before the elections.