Economy / 100 richest Indians can give ₹94k each to poorest 13.8 cr from pandemic wealth: Oxfam

Vikrant Shekhawat : Jan 25, 2021, 05:04 PM
New Delhi: The once-in-a-century pandemic and the ensuing economic pain rendered a historic shift in incomes in the country already known from some of the worst income equality levels on the planet. 

 While millions of daily wage labourers and even salaried employees lost jobs and their means of livelihood due to shutdown and stay-at-home restrictions, a few at the top of the pyramid grew fatter by billions owing to a fierce rally in stock markets. 

According to an Oxfam report, ‘The Inequality Virus’, India’s top 100 billionaires saw their fortunes increase by Rs 12,97,822 crores since March 2020, enough to give every one of the 138 million (13.8 core) poorest Indians a cheque for Rs 94,045.

Forget top 100, the spike in the fortunes of just 11 richest Indians during the pandemic is enough to sustain the massive Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) scheme or the health ministry of India for 10 years. 

Notably, 2020-21 budget estimate for the government’s temporary job guarantee scheme was Rs 61,000 crore and Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman allocated another Rs 40,000 in May 2020, as part of Covid-19 relief measures. 

“The wealth of Indian billionaires increased by 35% during the lockdown and by 90% since 2009 to $422.9 billion ranking India sixth in the world after US, China, Germany, Russia and France,” the India supplement of the Oxfam report states.

This growth of India’s wealth richest was more than twice the 15% gains that the benchmark Nifty index gave during the period.  

For instance, India’s richest billionaire Mukesh Ambani, who rose to become the fourth richest man in the world during the pandemic, was making Rs 90 crore per hour during the pandemic when around 24% of the people in the country were earning under Rs 3000 per month during the lockdown, it added. Ambani currently ranks 11th on the Bloomberg Billionaires Index with a fortune of $79.2 billion.

“It would take an unskilled worker 10,000 years to make what Ambani made in an hour during the pandemic and 3 years to make what Ambani made in a second,” the report stated.  

A 4% wealth tax on the nation’s 954 richest families could raise the equivalent of 1 per cent of India’s GDP, it added.

The phenomenon of a disproportionate spike in the wealth of the richest people during the pandemic isn’t unique to India

Billionaires worldwide saw their wealth increase by a staggering $3.9 trillion between March 18 and December 31, 2020. Their total wealth now stands at $11.95 trullion, 107 which is equivalent to what G20 governments have spent in response to the pandemic.

Only three of the 50 richest billionaires in the world saw their fortunes diminish over that period, losing $3 billion between them. Globally, two billionaires who saw the largest increases in their wealth in this period are active in the technology and automotive, battery production and space sectors: Elon Musk increased his net wealth by $128.9 billion, Jeff Bezos by $78.2 billion. 

The world’s 10 richest billionaires have collectively seen their wealth increase by $540 billion over this period.