Since March 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic induced lockdown ravaged the Indian economy, leading to unemployment, hunger and distress migration, India's top 100 billionaires saw their fortune go up by Rs. 12,97,822 crore - an amount that could provide a cheque of Rs. 94,045 each to the 138 million poorest Indians, says the latest report on inequality by international non-profit group Oxfam.
The reported - titled "The Inequality Virus" - details how the COVID-19 pandemic and the ensuing lockdown laid bare the inequalities between the rich and the poor in almost every country through highly disproportionate impacts. The report - which includes country-specific versions and a global edition - will be released on the opening day of the World Economic Forum's "Davos Dialogues".
"The report shows how the rigged economic system is enabling a super rich elite to amass wealth in the middle of the worst recession and the biggest economic crisis in the history of independent India while billions of people are struggling to make ends meet. It reveals how the pandemic is deepening long standing economic, caste, ethnic, and gender divides," Oxfam India CEO Amitabh Behar said in a press release by the non-profit.
With only a few hours of notice, India introduced one of the earliest and strictest lockdowns to fight the pandemic in March 2020, that triggered widespread unemployment and mass migration of daily-wage earners who lost their livelihoods in an instant.
"While the Coronavirus was being touted as a great equaliser in the beginning, it laid bare the stark inequalities inherent in the society soon after the lockdown was imposed," Behar added.
The India-specific version of the report states that while the rich were shielded from the worst impacts of the pandemic, and the white-collar workers isolated themselves and worked from home, nearly 170,000 people lost their jobs every hour in the month of April 2020. Nearly 75% of all the jobs lost during the pandemic were in the informal sector, it added.
Soon after, distressing images of migrant labours journeying back home on foot, due to lack of transportation, while combatting hunger, filled social and news media. News reports about migrants labourers dying from police brutality, suicides, starvation and accidents became common. In May, a particularly disheartening news about 16 migrant workers being crushed under a goods train while trying to make it back home, became symbolic of the major distress being faced by India's poorest during the lockdown.
At the same time billionaires like Gautam Adani, Cyrus Poonawalla and Laxmi Mittal increased their wealth exponentially since March 2020. Mukesh Ambani, India's richest man, entered the 'top 10' club in August 2020, after he was declared the fourth richest man in the world.
"Data shows what Ambani earned during the pandemic would keep the 40 crore informal workers that are at risk of falling into poverty due to COVID 19 above the poverty line for at least 5 months."
To show the contrast in the impact between the rich and the poor, the report added that the rise in wealth of the top 11 Indian billionaires since March 2020, could sustain the governments labour security NREGA scheme for 10 years.The pandemic also had disproportionate impact on the health and education of the poor. As classes moved entirely online, the report said that it risked doubling the rate of 'out of school' children, with only 4% of the rural households having a computer and less than 15% having access to internet. "Only 6 percent of the poorest 20 percent has access to non shared sources of improved sanitation, compared to 93.4 percent of the top 20 percent," it added.
It also states that women bore the burden of the negative impacts of the lockdown, with 17 million women losing their jobs in April alone, and the unemployment level rising from 18% to nearly 33% for Indian women. "This increase in unemployment of women can result in a loss to India's GDP of about 8% or USD 218 billion," the report read.
Such inequalities were not just seen in India, but globally - as the world's 500 richest saw their wealth increase by US$ 809 billion since January 2020, while 100 million were pushed under the poverty line, said the global edition of the report.
Oxfam stressed on progressive taxation systems for better income distribution, to create safety nets for the most vulnerable sections of society.
The COVID 19 crisis must be a turning point in the taxation of the richest individuals and big corporations. Progressive taxation of the richest members of the society must be the cornerstone of any equitable recovery from the crisis," Amitabh Behar said.
In conversation with BOOM, Behar further stressed on income distribution by state through higher levels of public funded education and healthcare. "The state has that fundamental primary responsibility that it must provide quality education to everyone. Similarly health is an aspiration in our directive principle. So I find it uncomfortable that we have resources for bullet train but not for primary education," he said.
Updated On: 2021-01-31T12:19:59+05:30