The 2019 BIEN Congress held in Hyderabad, India

The congress took place at the NALSAR University of Law in Hyderabad, and was organized by the Indian Basic Income Network (INBI).

The first day was an India Day. Sarath Davala, Chair of INBI and Vice chair of BIEN, and Renana Jhabvala, President of the Self-Employed Women’s Association, welcomed participants with a traditional lamp-lighting. An inaugural address was given by Prem Das Rai, a former Member of Parliament for Sikkim State, who when he was a Member of Parliament had proposed that a Basic Income should be established for the State. The address was followed by a session on India’s economic and social situation, on its complex social protection systems, and on its current and possible future debates about Basic Income. After lunch, there was a panel discussion about regional Basic Income and similar initiatives in India.

The second day saw the opening of the main congress. As with most of the India Day, all of the plenary sessions were panel discussions rather than single-presenter addresses. The first panel discussion was about religious and secular worldviews and their relationships with Basic Income. Then followed parallel sessions on a wide diversity of topics. After lunch, following a film about the Indian pilot project, two plenary sessions took place: one on pilot projects in Finland, Kenya, India and Korea, and an experiment in Ontario, and another on methods of financing Basic Incomes.

The third day began with a plenary session on political action in South Africa, the Netherlands, Brazil, Korea, and the United States. This was followed by parallel sessions, and then a plenary session on Basic Income as the foundation of a caring society. After lunch, there were more parallel sessions, and then a plenary session to enable us to listen to those who had received Basic Incomes, or were receiving them, during pilot projects in Kenya, India, and Germany, and the short-lived income-tested income experiment in Ontario. A final plenary session studied the commons and sovereign wealth funds. The conference dinner was a splendid outdoor event at one of the accommodation locations, and was accompanied by a cat-walk during which participants clad in Indian attire had to explain what Basic Income meant to them.

The fourth day started with short films from Korea and Germany. Three plenary sessions took place: the first on blockchain and Basic Income; the second about the emancipatory potential of Basic Income; and the third about Basic Income and women. Before the third session the congress thanked Sarath and all who had helped him to organize such a good congress, and four Indians (including the honorary Indian Guy Standing) were honoured for their contributions to the Indian pilot projects and the Indian debate on Basic Income. Following lunch, BIEN’s annual General Assembly took place.

The congress was well attended and well organized, and the accommodation and refreshments were of a high standard. Sessions ran late because the content was so interesting, and there were occasional logistical and technological problems, but nobody seemed to mind. The panel discussions worked really well, and there was plenty of opportunity for participation in debate. A strong impression left with participants was that the Basic Income debate is now truly global, and that it has finally escaped from its former Eurocentrism, and also that BIEN is beginning to make the same transition and now needs to complete it.

Sarath Davala did a brilliant job of planning the event and holding it all together, and he well deserved the praise that he received at the end of the congress.