India’s billionaires get 35% richer in COVID lockdown, lakhs of jobs lost: Oxfam report

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1.7 lakh people lost their jobs every hour in April 2020 alone

New Delhi: During the COVID lockdown, the wealth of India’s billionaires increased by an estimated 35 per cent, 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, a report titled Inequality Virus by a non-governmental organisation Oxfam said on Monday.

Released on the opening day of the World Economic Forum in Davos town of Switzerland, the report said that coronavirus pandemic has worsened existing income inequalities between India’s super-rich and its crores of unskilled workers.

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 Rs 94,045.

The report mentioned: “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.”

Pertinently, in August 2020 amid the COVID lockdown, Ambani was declared the fourth richest man on the planet.

Early last year, as the impact of the lockdown became apparent, the government of India announced an economic relief package worth around Rs 20 lakh crore. Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi hailed it as the cornerstone of his “Atma-Nirbhar Bharat (self-reliant India)” vision.

However, in its report Oxfam said the “direct fiscal impact” of the package, which included increasing FDI in the defence sector and opening up space exploration to the private sector, came to “a little more than INR 2 lakh crore, or a mere one per cent of GDP”.

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”.

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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