- Lockdown Made India’s Billionaires 35% Richer
- Income increases for India’s top 100 billionaires since March 2020 was enough to give each of the 138 million poorest people a cheque for ₹ 94,045
- In April 2020, 1.7 lakh people lost jobs every hour says Oxfam
The global pandemic caused by Coronavirus has worsened the existing gap between the super-rich and the unskilled workers which is especially the case in developing countries such as India where many of these unskilled workers are often unemployed for long periods of time and even struggle to access the basic healthcare and sanitation, said the non-profit group Oxfam said Monday in a report to be tabled at the World Economic Forum at Switzerland’s Davos.
The report from Oxfam, which is titled The Inequality Virus, said that the wealth of the billionaires in India increased by as much as 35% during the period the country was under a lockdown, while, it stated, 84% of households suffered varying degrees of income loss.
The biggest jaw dropping claim made in the report was that 1.7 lakh people lost their jobs every hour, in April 2020 alone.
It was also stated that the income of the top 100 Billionaires in India, since March 2020, when the lockdown was enforced in the country, has increased enough to give each of the 138 million (13.8 crore) poorest people in India a cheque of ₹ 94,045.
The report said, “The rising inequality in the country is poignant… it would take an unskilled worker 10,000 years to make what (Chairman of Reliance Industries Mukesh) Ambani made in an hour during the pandemic… and three years to make what Ambani made in a second”.
In August 2020, Mukesh Ambani was the 4th richest person in the world.
In months prior and after, tens of lakhs of migrant workers were left without jobs, money, food and in some instances, even shelter after the world’s strictest lockdown was enforced with little warning.
Tragic visuals came from all over the country of men, women and children walking kilometres which made headlines, as did those of the hundreds (potentially thousands) of deaths. The government of India later told the parliament that it has no data on these deaths, inviting a sharp response from opposition leader Rahul Gandhi.
In September, the Member of Parliament from Congress tweeted, “The sad part is the government does not care about the loss of lives. The world saw them dying”.
Early in 2019, when the impact of the nationwide lockdown became apparent, the Indian government announced relief packages worth close to ₹ 20 lakh crore.
Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, hailed it as the cornerstone of his “Atma-Nirbhar Bharat (self-reliant India)” vision.
However, in its report, Oxfam said, the “direct fiscal impact” of the package, which included increasing the Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in the defence sector and opening up space exploration to the private sector, came to “a little more than INR 2 lakh crore, or a mere one per cent of GDP”.
The report also states that if just the top 100 billionaires of India were “taxed at just one per cent on the increase in wealth during the pandemic” it could increase the allocation to the Jan Aushadhi scheme – which makes quality medicines available at affordable prices – by 140 times.
The report also did not shy away from highlighting the inequalities in the access to healthcare, arguing that the COVID-19 protocols such as social distancing and washing hands were “a luxury when 32 per cent and 30 per cent of households live in one room and two room houses, respectively, in urban India”.
Having said this, it is not like India alone has been flagged, the global version of the same report flagged similar distressing gaps in income inequalities – aggravated by the global pandemic – across the world.
The global report said, “Worldwide, billionaires’ wealth increased by a staggering $3.9 trillion between March 18 and December 31, 2020… at the same time it is estimated that the total number of people living in poverty could have increased by between 200 million and 500 million”.
As per Oxfam, the surge in wealth – counting from when the global pandemic began – of the world’s 10 richest people is “more than enough to prevent anyone on Earth from falling into poverty because of the virus, and to pay for a COVID-19 vaccine for everyone”.
Among the suggestions which were made to the Indian government to address such income disparity, Oxfam said that there should be an immediate revision in the minimum wages and also these must be enhanced at regular intervals.
Oxfam also suggested to impose a 2% surcharge on those who are earning more than 50 lakh, to the government.
Another suggestion it made was to introduce a temporary tax on companies who made windfall profits during the pandemic.
The report said, “It is time for the Government of India to take specific and concrete actions to build a better future… citizens’ voices seek a more equal and just future”.