Behind China and the USA, India has more billionaires than France, Sweden and Switzerland combined. The country witnessed a 39 per cent rise in number of billionaires last year. Richest 98 Indians own same wealth as the bottom 552 million people. Only one per cent wealth tax on these 98 richest billionaire families can finance the Indian government’s national public health insurance fund for more than seven years, reports Press Xpress
The growing inequality has been a major issue in India during the past quartercentury and a major threat to its peace and stability. The corona pandemic crisis has exposed their collective frailty and the inability of their deeply unequal economy to work for all.
Published on January 17, Oxfam India’s latest briefing ‘Inequality Kills’ revealed that 84% of households in the country suffered a decline in their income in a year marked by the tremendous loss of life and livelihoods while the number of Indian billionaires grew to 142 from 102.
The India supplement of the global report also says that in 2021, the collective wealth of India’s 100 richest people hit a record high of USD 775 billion. In the same year, the share of the bottom 50 per cent of the population in national wealth was a mere 6 per cent.
The wealth of Indian billionaires increased from USD 313 billion to USD 719 billion, during the pandemic (March 2020, through to November 30, 2021), the report mentions.
More than 4.6 crore Indians are estimated to have fallen into extreme poverty in 2020, nearly half of the global new poor according to the United Nations.
The report, released ahead of the World Economic Forum’s Davos Agenda, also found India’s healthcare budget saw a 10 per cent decline from revised estimates of 2020-21. There was a 6 per cent cut in allocation for education while the budgetary allocation for social security schemes declined from 1.5 per cent of the total Union budget to 0.6 per cent, the report also stated.
Behind China and the United States, India has more billionaires than France, Sweden and Switzerland combined, a 39 per cent increase in the number of billionaires in India in 2021. The report says, “this surge comes at a time when India’s unemployment rate was as high as 15 per cent in urban areas and the healthcare system was on the brink of collapse.’’
Oxfam pointed out that about one-fifth of the increase in the wealth of the richest 100 families was accounted for by the surge in the fortunes of a single individual and business house – the Adanis.
“Gautam Adani, ranked 24th globally and second in India, witnessed his net worth multiply by eight times in a span of one year; from USD 8.9 billion in 2020 to USD 50.5 billion in 2021.”
According to the real time data by Forbes, as of November 24, 2021, Adani’s net worth stands at USD 82.2 billion. This tremendous growth in a span of eight months, during India’s deadly second wave, also includes returns from Adani’s newly bought Carmichael mines in Australia, and a 74 per cent acquired stake in the Mumbai airport, the report says.
At the same time, MukeshAmbani’s net worth doubled in 2021 to USD 85.5 billion from USD 36.8 billion in 2020, the report mentions.
Oxfam India CEO Amitabh Behar said the global briefing points to the “stark reality of inequality contributing to the death of at least 21,000 people each day, or one person every four seconds”.
“The pandemic has set gender parity back from 99 years to now 135 years. Women collectively lost USD 800 billion in earnings in 2020, with 1.3 crore fewer women in work now than in 2019. This had a direct impact on their access to sanitary products. If the richest per cent’s income were to be taxed at one percent, 3,00,000 women can have access to free sanitary products for the entire year,” the report mentioned.
“It has never been so important to start righting the wrongs of this obscene inequality by targeting extreme wealth through taxation and getting that money back into the real economy to save lives,” Behar said.
At the same time, it says, the wealth tax for the super-rich was abolished in 2016. “Corporate taxes were lowered to 22% from 30% to attract investment last year, resulting in a loss of Rs1.5 lakh crore, which has contributed to the increase in India’s fiscal deficit. These trends show that the poor, marginalised and the middle class paid high taxes despite going through the raging pandemic while the rich made more money without paying their fair share,” the briefing says.
According to the NGO, privatisation of basic services is detrimental to equality. It says the policy push for privatisation of healthcare and education in India further acts as enablers of inequality in India.
In a 2021 survey by Oxfam India, 52% of the parents who send their children to private schools reported paying hiked fees for the assessment year (AY) 21-22. About 35% of children were prevented from accessing education due to non-payment of fees, while 38% of parents had to pay illegal charges as capitation fees at the time of admission, and 57% of parents had to pay additional charges that were not part of the declared official break-up of fees.
Moreover, the survey shows that parents spend a substantial portion of their household income on private school fees, about 15% and above. Oxfam India says that the growing privatisation of school education disproportionately affects the country’s poor and marginalised people, particularly women and girls.
According to the NGO, India’s expenditure on social security schemes for workers, under the ministry of labour and employment, and the centrally sponsored scheme of the National Social Assistance Programme, is abysmally low at 0.6% of total expenditure in 2021-22, a decline from 1.5% of the total expenditure from the previous year.
Politicians, governments, civil society, academicians, and bureaucrats across the country are repeatedly stressing the need to address high wealth inequality and its ill effects in the past few years. This includes Nobel laureate and economist Abhijit Banerjee, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s (RSS) chief Mohan Bhagwat, Kerala’s chief minister (CM) Pinarayi Vijayan and Andhra Pradesh CM YS Jagan Reddy.
Offering a solution, it recommended one per cent surcharge on the richest 10 per cent of India’s population to fund inequality combating measures. These include higher investments in school education, universal healthcare and social security benefits like maternity leaves, paid leaves and pension for all Indians.