GRIM REALITY: While poor become more poor, India’s 1.3crore rich own more than half of nation’s wealth



DAVOS: Socialism mouthed by India’s principal ruling party, the Congress, for seven decades – much of which period it held power – has taken the nation to this pathetic pass: India’s richest one percent citizens, forming 1.3crore people, own more than half of the nation’s wealth. This was stated in an Oxfam study report released here on Monday. Worse, 10 per cent of Indians, forming 13.6crore people who form the poorest 10 per cent of the population, remain in debt trap for the last 14 years at a stretch.

The combined revenue and capital expenditure of the Centre and states for medical, public health, sanitation and water supply is Rs. 2,08,166 crore, which is less than the country’ richest man Mukesh Ambani’s wealth of Rs. 2.8 lakh crore, Oxfam said. 

Overall, the fortunes of billionaires in India swelled by Rs 2,200crore per day in 2018 when one per cent of the nation’s richest got richer by 39 per cent –as against a 3 per cent increase in the wealth for the poorest, bottom half, of the population.

BJP, the main non-Congress party that ruled India for a few terms including the present Modi term, also swears by Gandhian Socialism as its creed, ever since it was formed in the early 1980s, after the fall of the Morarji Desai government that came into being after the end of Emergency. Modi, like Indira Gandhi and the rest of her ruling clan, shed a lot of crocodile tears for the poor in India. Rahul Gandhi does the same. All these have not materially changed the life of India’s poor for the better; rather, they are mostly in deep debt, poverty and want. A main reason is that the salaries for the lower rungs of society both in the agriculture and industrial sectors grew only marginally, and the zamindars and business sharks made huge profits.

Notably, the fortunes of billionaires rose by 12 per cent – that is, $2.5billon a day last year. At the same time, the poorest half of the world population found their wealth decline by 11 per cent, Oxfam said in the report, released shortly before the start of the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting here.

The Indian scenario “is morally outrageous,” said Oxfam International Executive Director Winnie Byanyima, a prominent presence at the WEF meet.

She noted that a few wealthy individuals are amassing a growing share of India’s wealth, while the poor are struggling to eat their next meal or pay for their child’s medicines. “If this obscene inequality between the top 1 per cent and the rest of India continues, then it will lead to a complete collapse of the social and democratic structure of this country,” she said. 

Noting that wealth is becoming even more concentrated, Oxfam said 26 people now own the same as the 3.8 billion people who make up the poorest half of humanity, down from 44 people last year.    
The world’s richest man Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, saw his fortune increase to $112 billion and just 1 per cent of his fortune is equivalent to the whole health budget for Ethiopia, a country of 115 million people.    
“India’s top 10 per cent of the population holds 77.4 per cent of the total national wealth. The contrast is even sharper for the top 1 per cent that holds 51.53 per cent of the national wealth. The bottom 60 per cent, the majority of the population, own merely 4.8 per cent of the national wealth. Wealth of top 9 billionaires is equivalent to the wealth of the bottom 50 per cent of the population,” Oxfam said while noting that high level of wealth disparity subverts democracy.
Between 2018 and 2022, India is estimated to produce 70 new dollar millionaires every day, Oxfam said.    
“It (the survey) reveals how governments are exacerbating inequality by under-funding public services, such as healthcare and education, on the one hand, while under taxing corporations and the wealthy, and failing to clamp down on tax dodging on the other,” Oxfam India CEO Amitabh Behar said.    
The survey also shows that women and girls are hardest hit by rising economic inequality, he added.    
“The size of one’s bank account should not dictate how many years your children spend in school, or how long you live — yet this is the reality in too many countries across the globe. While corporations and the super-rich enjoy low tax bills, millions of girls are denied a decent education and women are dying for lack of maternity care,” Ms Byanyima said.
According to the Oxfam report, India added 18 new billionaires last year, raising the total number of billionaires to 119, while their wealth crossed the $400 billion (Rs. 28 lakh crore) mark for the first time. It rose from $325.5 billion in 2017 to $440.1 billion in 2018, making it the single largest annual increase since the 2008 global financial crisis.    

Oxfam further said getting India’s richest 1 per cent pay just 0.5 per cent extra tax on their wealth could raise enough money enough to increase the government spending on health by 50 per cent. The combined revenue and capital expenditure of the Centre and states for medical, public health, sanitation and water supply is Rs. 2,08,166 crore, which is less than the country’ richest man Mukesh Ambani’s wealth of Rs. 2.8 lakh crore. 

Globally, Oxfam said the tax rates for wealthy individuals and corporations have been cut dramatically.   hile billionaire wealth soars, public services are suffering from chronic underfunding or being outsourced to private companies that exclude the poorest people, Oxfam said.    
The rights group said in many countries including India, a decent education or quality healthcare has become a luxury only the rich can afford. “Children from poor families in India are three times more likely to die before their first birthday than children from rich families,” it added.    
Oxfam said its calculations are based on the latest comprehensive data sources available publicly, including from the Credit Suisse Wealth Databook and the annual Forbes Billionaires List. –AGENCIES, IHN-NN

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