The top 1% of India owned over 40% of total wealth from 2012 to 2021, while the bottom 50% of the population has around 3% of total wealth, Oxfam's annual equality report released on Monday said.
The report used sources like Forbes and Credit Suisse to look at the inequality of wealth in the country. It also looked at government sources like NSS, Union Budget documents and Parliamentary questions to corroborate its arguments.
Oxfam India’s latest report was released on the opening day of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. The number of billionaires in India increased from 102 in 2020 to 166, the report said.
Amitabh Behar, CEO of Oxfam India, said that the number of hungry Indians has gone up from 190 million in 2018 to 350 million in 2022. "While the country suffers from multiple crises like hunger, unemployment, inflation and health calamities, India’s billionaires are doing extremely well for themselves. The poor meanwhile in India are unable to afford even basic necessities to survive," he said.
Here are some highlights of the report:
'Rich are getting richer'
According to the Oxfam report, the number of billionaires in India increased from 102 in 2020 to 166 billionaires in 2022 with the combined wealth of India’s 100 richest touching INR 54.12 lakh crore.
The report said, "Since the pandemic begun to November 2022, billionaires in India have seen their wealth surge by 121%, or INR 3608 Crore per day in real terms."
The wealth of the top 10 richest in 2022 was Rs 27.52 lakh crore, which was a 32.8% increase from 2021. The report said, "The Adani group chairman Gautam Adani’s wealth alone increased eight times during the pandemic and then nearly doubled to INR 10.96 lakh crore according to Forbes in October 2022, making him the richest Indian."
Cyrus Poonawalla of Cyrus Poonawalla group had his wealth increase by 91% from 2021. Poonawalla is the managing director of the Serum Institute of India which manufactures vaccines, including the Covid-19 vaccine.
Other billionaires whose wealth increased during this time include Shiv Nadar, Radhakishan Damani and Kumar Birla. The report said, "There are only 11 women billionaires in India, 12 if we include Rekha Jhunjunwala (following the death of her husband Rakesh Jhunjhunwala). They command a total wealth of INR 3.85 lakh crore rupees, which is only 0.40 per cent of the total wealth of the 166 Indian billionaires."
The women billionaires of India together own only roughly half of the wealth of Mukesh Ambani, the owner of Reliance Industries, according to the report.
Poor pay more in taxes
The report found that if India’s billionaires are taxed once at 2% on their entire wealth, "it would support the requirement of INR 40,423 crores for the nutrition of malnourished in the country for the next 3 years".
While the rich have gotten richer and the poor poorer, they still end up paying more in taxes. The report said, "The bottom 50 percent of the population pays six times more on indirect taxation compared to top 10 percent, as per our estimates using NSSO 2011-12 data on consumption and GST tax rates from 2021."
The report said that approximately 64% of the total Rs 14.83 lakh crore in GST came from the bottom 50% while the top 10% only paid 3% of it in 2021-2022.
The report added, "To increase revenue, the Union Government adopted a policy of hiking the Goods and Services Tax (GST) and excise duties on diesel and petrol while simultaneously cutting down on exemptions. The indirect nature of both the GST and fuel taxes make them regressive, which invariably burdens the most marginalized."
Poor continue to suffer
With the highest number of poor in the world at 228.9 million, the poor in India continue to suffer, Oxfam said. "The centre’s submission to the Supreme Court revealed that 65 per cent of the deaths among children under the age of five in 2022 was a result of malnutrition and malnourishment," the report said.
"Wealth inequality has stripped 70 per cent of Indians from as basic a necessity as a healthy, consumable diet leading to the yearly deaths of 1.7 million owing to diseases resulting from a poor diet. The median wage of the country is just enough to provide for the most basic of sustenance and losing a week’s income would push them to the brink of starvation," the report found.
It further said that the income share of the bottom half of the Indian population by 2020 was estimated to have fallen to only 13% of the national income. "It is particularly concerning for a country like India where the majority of the employed are informal workers engaged in precarious forms of work with no security of tenure, fixed salary and legal or social protection," Oxfam said.
Poverty more in women-led households
Citing the 2022 Global Multidimensional Poverty Index, the Oxfam report said that India is the only South Asian country where poverty was significantly more prevalent in female-headed households as compared to male-headed households. "Women’s class and gender marginalization means that they face double the barriers to improve their social mobility," Oxfam said in the report.
It further added that women are often excluded from inheriting wealth despite national laws such as the Hindu Succession Act and legal precedents enshrining women’s status as coparceners. "Poor women, especially those from marginalized castes, are often ghettoized into work that lacks dignity and is inhumane. For instance, a vast majority of people pushed into the degrading occupation of manual scavenging are Dalit women," it said.