The coronavirus pandemic and the subsequent lockdown in India made the rich richer said a report by Oxfam. The report – titled The Inequality Virus – said the wealth of the country’s billionaires increased by an estimated 35 per cent during the lockdown, while 84 per cent of households suffered varying degrees of income loss, and 1.7 lakh people lost their jobs every hour, in April 2020 alone.

It also said income increases for India’s top 100 billionaires since March 2020, when the lockdown was enforced, was enough to give each of the 138 million poorest people a cheque for ₹ 94,045.

“The rising inequality in the country is poignant… it would take an unskilled worker 10,000 years to make what (Reliance Industries’ Chairman Mukesh) Ambani made in an hour during the pandemic… and three years to make what Ambani made in a second,” the report said.

In August, Mukesh Ambani was declared the fourth richest man on the planet.

In the months prior and after, lakhs of migrant workers were left without jobs, money, food or shelter after the world’s strictest lockdown was enforced with little warning.

The report also said that if India’s top 11 billionaires were “taxed at just one per cent on the increase in wealth during the pandemic” it could increase allocation to the Jan Aushadhi scheme – which makes quality medicines available at affordable prices – by 140 times.

It also highlighted inequalities in access to healthcare, arguing that Covid protocols like social distancing and washing of 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”.

A global version of the same report flagged similarly distressing gaps in income inequalities – exacerbated by the pandemic – across the world.

“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,” the global report said.

According to Oxfam, the increase in the wealth – just since the crisis began – of the world’s 10 richest billionaires 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 made to the Indian government to address such inequalities, Oxfam has suggested immediately revising minimum wages and enhancing these at regular intervals.

It also called on the government to impose a two per cent surcharge on those earning over ₹ 50 lakh and introduce a temporary tax on companies making windfall profits during the pandemic.

“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,” the report said.


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One Comment

  1. The vicious aspect of this linear rich-getting-richer factuality during a pandemic is that the more money poured into valets of the super-rich the greater the repressive financial Juggernaut power structures in their hands become, enlarging further the gap between the rich and poor across the Globe. This is a phenomenon spearheaded first by the U.S. billionaires. Jeff Bezos in America who made $10 billion in just one day, during the pandemic, is a fact registered worldwide. If world’s 10 richest men skimmed half a trillion dollars during this pandemic, then we know how just our world is and how healthy its economy ! The Super-Rich will always argue, we earned it legally. The fact is they were the only ones capable of exploiting the Covid-situation of forbidden outward movements of people, like what the Amazon did by delivering home goods of all kinds and transporting across continents or increased internet high way communication in Covid-times exploited by Zuckerberg’s Facebook etc. Why no government introduced an extra pandemic-based super-tax on this new pandemic wealth in billions made by the Super-Rich and channelled such revenue to produce more vaccines remains a puzzle to me. In reality it is unfair trade practice when other smaller competitors of the economy are disabled by order.

    If you follow the Dialectical Logic of philosopher Hegel that Karl Marx happily took over, such a situation of Big Divide between the Rich and Poor will invariably lead to a severe clash between both hounding out multibillionaires from their thrones. We can surely imagine many Lenin’s popping up in all 5 continents to set things straight. The sanest path to pre-empt such violent conflicts is what countries like New Zealand, South, Korea and Sierra Leone wisely do, as the report points out, – reducing inequality as a national priority. I am tempted to interpret that as practising a truly functioning social market economy, as the German economist Ludwig Erhard proposed for a post-War (WWII) Germany that eventually led to Germany’s “Wirtschaftswunder” (Economic Wonder). Given the current nature of an unbridled “super-rich- creating” free-wheeling, corrupt Capitalism malignantly spread out to many continents, that is probably the safest path, because it takes care of poor workers life, security and welfare, basic for the functioning of a peaceful society.

    In a world of diminishing resources and increasing population, a sub-fractional group amassing such massive wealth in pandemic times when millions are starving and with over 2 million deaths within a year, is simply obscene and morally unacceptable by any basic ethical standards of a civilised society.

    George Chakko, former U.N. correspondent, now retiree in Vienna, Austria.
    Vienna, 27/ 01/ 2021 23:15 hrs CET