9 Richest Indians’ wealth equivalent to bottom 50% of Country

A report released by Oxfam International reveals shocking details about the rising wealth inequality and its threat to the social fabric in India. According to the Oxfam Inequality Report 2019, wealth is being further concentrated in the hands of the richest while the poor are pushed deeper into deprivation. “High levels of wealth disparity subverts democracy,” the report states.

This is a common trend across the world – last year alone, the wealth of the poorest half of humanity, 3.8 billion people, fell by 11%, while a new billionaire was created every two days between 2017 and 2018 across the globe. In India, the wealth of the top 1% increased by 39%, whereas that of the bottom 50% increased by merely 3% in 2018. It adds that in 2018, 26 wealthiest people owned the same as the 3.8 billion people who make up the poorest half of humanity, down from 43 people in 2017.

In a section titled “Inequality is sexist,” the Oxfam report states that women in India are still receiving 34% less wages than their male counterparts for the same work. However, the UN Women report says that globally women earn 23% less than men while men ear 50% more of total wealth than women. 

Tax-breaks for super-rich

The report also exposes how the super-rich get tax breaks for their business and corporations while the poor are burdened with taxes. “Unprecedented levels of tax avoidance and evasion” ensure that the wealthiest continue to pay less taxes, the report says, adding that “there can be no moral justification for this behaviour beyond the discredited neoliberal dogma that if everyone maximizes their selfishness, the world will somehow be a better place.”

The super-rich in India, according to Oxfam Report, “are hiding $7.6 trillion from the tax authorities”. It also alleges that corporates “hide” money offshore to evade taxes. “Together this deprives developing countries of $170bn a year,” it says.

Amidst this, India added 18 new billionaires to the list just last year, taking the total number of billionaires in the country to 119. Their total wealth is higher than the Union budget of India for 2018-2019 (Rs.24,422 billion), the report says. The country’s combined revenue and capital expenditure of the Centre and states for public health, sanitation and water supply is less than the wealth of India’s richest billionaire Mukesh Ambani.

Inequality in India is based not just on class but caste, sexuality and gender as well. “A Dalit woman can expect to live almost 14.6 years less than one from a high-caste,” the report says. Additionally, under funding and privatisation of public services, gender inequality leading to violence against women, the burden of unpaid care work, fiscal injustice for women and other marginalised groups, and corruption are listed as the major reasons for increasing wealth inequality in India.

The report also criticised the government for shortage of health specialists and doctors in rural areas. “While India boasts of world class health services at low cost” and ranks 5th on the Medical Tourism Index, in terms of quality and accessibility of healthcare to its own citizen, it ranks 145th among 195 countries,” the report points out. 

Recommendations for Government

In order to make the society fair, Oxfam has also made recommendations to the Indian Government. “Getting the richest one percent in India to pay just 0.5 percent extra tax on their wealth could raise enough money enough to increase government spending on heath by 50 percent,” the report says.

Oxfam recommendations to the government include progressively making school education free, ensuring reduced out-of-pocket expenses on health, and meeting global benchmarks of 6% and 3.5% of GDP on education and public health respectively. Other recommendations include strengthening quality public healthcare, strict enforcement of the Right to Education norms, stopping commercialisation of education and health, and an increased focus on gender budgeting.

“Economic inequality plagued by caste, class, gender and religion need to be tackled on a war-footing. Government must now deliver real change by ensuring that the super-rich and corporations pay their fair share of tax and invest this money to strengthen public healthcare and education. Governments can build a brighter future for everyone – not just a privileged few,” said Amitabh Behar, CEO of Oxfam India.


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