Indian billionaires’ fortunes increased by 35 percent during the lockdown while 12.2 crore Lost their Jobs: Oxfam Report

During the World Economic Forum meeting held in January 2021 the Oxfam report ‘The Inequality Virus’ was released. Its supplement made shocking observations about the repercussions of Covid pandemic and consequential lockdown on Indian economy and the poor especially. 

Some of the key observations are

• The report noted that the fortunes of India’s 100 top billionaires have increased by Rs 12,97,822 crore since March last year when the COVID-19 pandemic hit the country and this amount is enough to give 13.8 crore poorest Indians a cheque for Rs 94,045 each.

• It will take 10,000 years for an unskilled worker in India to earn business tycoon Mukesh Ambani made in an hour during the pandemic and three years to make what he made in a second.

• During the lockdown, rich were able to escape the pandemic’s worst impact; and while the white-collar workers isolated themselves and worked from home. The data has shown that 1,70,000 people lost their jobs every hour in the month of April 2020 when one of the earliest and stringent lockdown was suddenly imposed in the country.

• The informal sector was worst hit. The report said out of a total 12.2 crore people who lost their jobs, 75 percent, which accounts for 9.2 crore jobs, were lost in the informal sector.

• The mass exodus on foot triggered by the sudden lockdown and the inhuman beating, disinfection and quarantine conditions, the informal workers were subjected to turned a health emergency into a humanitarian crisis,” it said.

• “Over 300 informal workers died due to the lockdown, with reasons ranging from starvation, suicides, exhaustion, road and rail accidents, police brutality and denial of timely medical care. The National Human Rights Commission recorded over 2,582 cases of human rights violation as early as in the month of April 2020,” the report added.

• Long disruption of schooling risked has doubling the rate of out of school, especially among the poor. Only 4 per cent of rural households had a computer and less than 15 per cent rural households had an internet connection. 

• The report said 1.7 crore women lost their job in April 2020 and unemployment for women rose by 15 per cent from a pre-lockdown level.

• The report noted that billionaires namely Gautam Adani, Shiv Nadar, Cyrus Poonawalla, Uday Kotak, Azim Premji, Sunil Mittal, Radhakrishan Damani, Kumar Manglam Birla and Laxmi Mittal working in sectors such as coal, oil, telecom, medicines, pharmaceutical, education and retail, increased their wealth exponentially since March 2020 when India announced world’s biggest COVID-19 lockdown and economy came to standstill.

• “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 five months,” the report said.

• The wealth of Indian billionaires increased by 35 percent during the lockdown and by 90 percent since 2009 to $422.9 billion, ranking India sixth in the world after the US, China, Germany, Russia and France, it said.

• The increase in wealth of the top 11 billionaires of India during the pandemic could sustain the rural job scheme MGNREGA for 10 years or the Health Ministry for 10 years.

• The report added that India has the world’s fourth lowest health budget in terms of its share of government expenditure. If India’s top 11 billionaires are taxed at just 1 per cent on the increase in their wealth during the pandemic, it will be enough to increase the allocation of Jan Aushadi Scheme by 140 times, which provides affordable medicines to the poor and marginalised.

• “The mass exodus on foot triggered by the sudden lockdown and the inhuman beating, disinfection and quarantine conditions, the informal workers were subjected to turned a health emergency into a humanitarian crisis,” it said.

• On health inequalities, the report said only 6 per cent of the poorest 20 per cent has access to non-shared sources of improved sanitation, compared to 93.4 per cent of the top 20 per cent. It added that 59.6 per cent of India’s population lives in a room or less.

About the Survey report

The global survey of 295 economists from 79 countries, commissioned by Oxfam, reveals that 87 per cent of respondents, including Jeffrey Sachs, Jayati Ghosh and Gabriel Zucman, expect an “increase” or a “major increase” in income inequality in their country as a result of the pandemic.

The report called coronavirus pandemic the world’s worst public health crisis in a hundred years and reported that the economic crisis it triggered is comparable in scale only with the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Newer and creative ways to cater to the needs of the hour is imperative

Oxfam India CEO Amitabh Behar said that if not addressed immediately, the crisis could worsen. “Extreme inequality is not inevitable but a policy choice. The fight against inequality must be at the heart of economic rescue and recovery efforts now,” he mentioned. 

He underlined the necessity of newer and creative ways of catering to the needs of the masses. “It is time for the government of India to take specific and concrete actions that will build a better future, more equal and just a future for everyone,” he said.

Source: PTI, The Tribune