"The rich were able to escape the pandemic’s worst"
According to Oxfam’s Inequality Virus Report, Indian billionaires increased their wealth by 35% during the pandemic.
The total wealth reached £309 billion, ranking India sixth in the world after the USA, China, Germany, Russia and France.
Out of these, the increase in wealth for the top 100 billionaires since the lockdown in March 2020 is enough to give the 138 million poorest Indians Rs. 94,000 (£940) each.
The report has highlighted deepening inequalities due to Covid-19 where the richest escaped the worst impact of the pandemic while the poor faced joblessness, starvation and death.
Mukesh Ambani, who is India’s richest man, earned Rs. 90 Crore (£9 million) an hour during the pandemic while 24% of Indian citizens earned less than Rs. 3,000 (£30) per month.
India’s lockdown resulted in the economy being brought to a standstill, triggering unemployment, distress migration and hardship.
The report said: “The rich were able to escape the pandemic’s worst impact; and while the white-collar workers isolated themselves and worked from home, a majority of the not-so-fortunate Indians lost their livelihood.”
Billionaires such as Gautam Adani, Shiv Nadar, Cyrus Poonawalla, Uday Kotak, Azim Premji, Sunil Mittal, Radhakrishan Damani, Kumar Manglam Birla and Laxmi Mittal significantly increased their wealth since March 2020.
On the other hand, around 170,000 people lost their jobs every hour during April 2020.
“The mass exodus on foot triggered by the sudden lockdown and the inhuman beating, disinfection and quarantine conditions the informal workers were subjected to turned a health emergency into a humanitarian crisis.
“Over 300 informal workers died due to the lockdown, with reasons ranging from starvation, suicides, exhaustion, road and rail accidents, police brutality and denial of timely medical care.
“The National Human Rights Commission recorded over 2,582 cases of human rights violation as early as in the month of April 2020.”
The long disruption of schooling risked doubling the rate out of school, especially among the poor.
“Only 4% of rural households had a computer and less than 15% rural households had an internet connection.”
Just six per cent of the poorest 20% had access to non-shared sources of improved sanitation, compared to 93.4% of the top 20%.
Amitabh Behar, Oxfam India CEO, said if it is not addressed immediately, it could worsen.
“Extreme inequality is not inevitable, but a policy choice.”
“The fight against inequality must be at the heart of economic rescue and recovery efforts now.
“Newer and creative ways of catering to the needs of the masses is possible if governments are committed to the needs of its people.
“It is time for the government of India to take specific and concrete actions that will build a better future, more equal and just a future for everyone.”