The richest 98 Indians own the same wealth as the bottom 552 million people, the India supplement of Oxfam’s Inequality Kills report of 2022 says. India added 40 billionaires last year, but the number of its poor doubled.
The India supplement of Oxfam’s Inequality Kills report reveals that the number of Indian billionaires grew from 102 to 142, while 84 per cent of households in the country suffered a decline in their income in the past year. India now has more billionaires than France, Sweden and Switzerland combined.
The supplement centered on the impact of the pandemic on India’s poor also states that just a one per cent wealth tax on 98 richest billionaire families in India can finance Ayushman Bharat, the national public health insurance fund of the Government of India for more than seven years.
The briefing was published Sunday, ahead of the of the World Economic Forum’s Davos Agenda. The briefing indicates that the collective wealth of India’s 100 richest people hit a record high of INR 57.3 lakh crore (USD 775 billion) in 2021. It discusses India’s governance structures that promote the accumulation of wealth by a few, while failing to provide safety nets to the rest of the population.
While the report hinges on the tremendous loss of life and livelihoods during 2021, it cites the recent Pandora Papers investigation highlighting the loopholes that India’s rich exploit to conceal their assets and evade taxes.
According to the report, the wealth of Indian billionaires increased from INR 23.14 lakh crore (USD 313 billion) to INR 53.16 lakh crore (USD 719 billion) during the pandemic (since March 2020, through to 30 November 2021).
In the meanwhile, more than 4.6 crore Indians have been estimated to have fallen into extreme poverty in 2020 (nearly half of the global new poor according to the United Nations).
India added 40 billionaires during the last year but the number of poor doubled. The level of this inequality is so stark that the wealth of India’s 10 richest is enough to fund the school, higher education of every child for 25 years, say the authors of the report.
Interestingly, a fifth of the increase in the wealth of India’s richest 100 families was accounted for by the surge in the fortunes of a single individual and business house – Adani. Gautam Adani’s net worth multiplied eight times in the space of one year, the Oxfam report says.
The wealth inequality in India is a result of an economic system rigged in favour of the super-rich over the poor and marginalised, the report says, arguing that the richest 98 Indians own the same wealth as the bottom 552 million people, the report says.
In this context, the report alludes to the abolition of ‘wealth tax’ in 2016. This abolition accompanied with steep cuts in corporate taxes and an increase in indirect taxation has removed the rich from being the primary source of tax revenue.
The briefing advocates a one percent surcharge on the richest 10 percent of the Indian population to fund inequality combating measures such as higher investments in school education, universal healthcare, and social security benefits like maternity leaves, paid leaves and pension for all Indians.
A 2021 OECD report for G-20 countries highlighted an inherent need to move beyond just improving individual taxes and looking at reformulating ‘tax systems’ to promote inclusive, sustainable, and equitable growth. “Unfortunately, not only has the taxation policy of the Indian government been pro-rich, it has also deprived India’s states of important fiscal resources—both particularly damaging in the context of the COVID-19 crisis,” the Oxfam report says.