Report highlighting how rich prospered at cost of impoverished millions in Modi regime a cause for alarm

A report released by Oxfam India says even as number of billionaires grew by 39 per cent in 2021, the share of bottom 50 per cent of the population in national wealth was a mere 6 per cent

Illustration by artist Orijit Sen
Illustration by artist Orijit Sen

Dr Gyan Pathak

It is high time that the people of India could see – rather must see – through the grim reality under Modi govt’s misrule, especially since the outbreak of the COVID-19, during which 84 per cent of the households of the country suffered significant decline in income with tremendous loss of lives and livelihoods even as billionaires prospered and enjoyed their combine fortunes which more than doubled.

Even as the number of billionaires grew by 39 per cent from 102 in 2020 to 142 in 2021, the share of the bottom 50 per cent of the population in national wealth was a mere 6 per cent.

This revelation made in the latest document in the working paper series titled “Inequality Kills: India Supplement 2022” released by Oxfam India makes one think there must be some great wrong being committed on the common people of this country by design, foolishness, incapability, or incapacity of the Modi government, though the government has been claiming that it has been doing great things for the people of the country and the nation.

The Opposition has all along been alleging that the Modi government is working for the select few while exploiting the public sentiment in the name of nationalism and ‘nation first’.

The data produced by the Oxfam India paper may be of some help to understand as to what is the reality between the claims of the Modi government and the allegations of their detractors against them.

The briefing published ahead of the World Economic Forum’s Davos Agenda indicates that the collective wealth of India’s richest people hit a record high of Rs 57.3 lakh crore in 2021. During the pandemic since March 2020 through November 30, 2021, the paper says, the wealth of billionaires increased from Rs. 23.14 lakh crore to Rs 53.16 lakh crore.

More than 4.6 crore Indians meanwhile are estimated to have fallen into extreme poverty in 2020, which is nearly half of the global new poor, according to the United Nations.

The stark wealth inequality in India is a result of an economic system rigged in favour of the super-rich over the poor and marginalized, the India Supplement to the global Oxfam Davos report of 2022 has said while discussing governance structures that promote the accumulation of wealth by a few, while failing to provide a safety net to the rest of the population. The combined wealth of the richest 100 Indians on the Forbes list stands at more than half a trillion USD.

It may be shocking to know for many that the abolition of ‘wealth tax’ in 2016, steep cuts in corporate taxes, and an increase in indirect taxation has removed the rich from being the primary source of tax revenue. As the report has pointed out, it is clear that the common people are burdened with more revenue collection by the government through increasing indirect taxes while the richest were given a break through cuts in direct taxes.

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 brief has said just after quoting a 2021 OECD report for G-20 countries highlighting the need of reforming ‘tax systems’ to promote inclusive, sustainable, and equitable growth. Modi’s tax system has clearly remained non-inclusive, unsustainable, and inequitable.

The COVID-19 crisis revealed how dependent Indian states are on the Union government for technical expertise and financial support, despite a federal structure envisaged by the Constitution of India. The Modi government clearly worked against the spirit of the Constitution of India and continued to retain more resources in non-divisible pools during the pandemic year, knowing fully well that health is a state subject and that devolving resources to the state would have helped them manage the pandemic more effectively.

Not only that, in 2021, the Central government also allocated smaller amounts to the critical health and education sectors than ever before, the paper noted. The inadequate governmental expenditure on health, education, and social security has gone hand-in-hand with rise in privatisation of health and education, thus making a full and secure COVID-19 recovery out of reach for the common citizen.

What are, then, the billionaires of India doing? Are they against humanity? Why they are conspicuously absent from moves like “Millionaires of Humanity” of the world who have requested their governments to tax them more to save millions with a slogan that ‘Humanity is more important than our money”? These are the questions that need answers urgently in the backdrop of growing inequality of wealth and power in the country.

In fact, more and more of India’s wealth has gone to its richest one per cent since 2015, a phenomenon which unsurprisingly emerged after Modi came to power in mid-2014. At that time, the richest 98 Indian billionaires had the same wealth ($657 billion) as the poorest 555 million people of the country, i.e. the poorest 40 per cent of the population.

The increase in the number of billionaires and their wealth coincides with increase in unemployment rate in the country and the health system at the brink of collapse during the pandemic. Two names are chiefly mentioned – Adani and Ambani – for whom benefit Modi is alleged to have been working. The allegation may or may not be true, but it would be very interesting to see what happened to them during the pandemic when about 84 per cent households suffered a decline in their income. Their wealth grew to such an extent that it accounted for one-fifth of the increase in the rise of the richest 100 families.

Gautam Adani’s wealth multiplied by eight times in a span of one year from $8.9 billion in 2020 to $82.2 billion according to real time data accessed by Forbes as on November 24, 2021. Mukesh Ambani’s net worth also doubled in 2021 to $85.5 billion from $36.8 billion in 2020.

It should also be noted that the RBI had forecast India’s GDP growth in the range of -8.7 to -7.0 per cent in 2020-21. To make things worse, more than 120 million jobs were lost, including 92 million from the informal sector in the same year.

The State of Food Security and Nutrition 2021 by FAO has estimated that there are over 200 million undernourished people in the country, the home to 25 per cent of all undernourished people of the world.

It is imperative that the Modi government and the people of the country see through the unfortunate state of affairs in governance that has created so much inequality.

(IPA Service)

Views are personal

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