Indian billionaires’ wealth surged 35% during lockdown; 17 million women lost job in April 2020: Oxfam

India’s commercial capital Mumbai tops the list for the COVID-19 hotspot. The city contributes 18.10 percent cases in India and 54.73% in the state of Maharashtra.

India’s commercial capital Mumbai tops the list for the COVID-19 hotspot. The city contributes 18.10 percent cases in India and 54.73% in the state of Maharashtra.

The wealth gap between India’s richest and its poorest widened during the COVID-19 pandemic, especially due to the nationwide lockdown in April-June 2020, which rendered millions of migrants and daily wage workers without means of livelihood, as per a report by global charitable organisation Oxfam.

“India’s 100 billionaires have seen their fortunes increase by Rs 12.98 lakh crore since March 2020, enough to give every one of the 138 million poorest Indian people a cheque for Rs 94,045 each,” said Oxfam in the India supplement of its report on global income inequality.

“The report shows how the rigged economic system is enabling a super-rich elite to amass wealth in the middle of the worst recession and the biggest economic crisis in the history of independent India, while billions of people are struggling to make ends meet. It reveals how the pandemic is deepening long-standing economic, caste, ethnic, and gender divides,” Oxfam India CEO Amitabh Behar said in a statement.

“While the Coronavirus was being touted as a great equaliser in the beginning, it laid bare the stark inequalities inherent in the society soon after the lockdown was imposed,” Behar added.

In 2020, India’s 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, the report said.

“The wealth of Indian billionaires increased by 35 percent during the lockdown and by 90 percent since 2009 to $ 422.9 billion ranking India, sixth in the world after US, China, Germany, Russia and France. In fact, the increase in wealth of the top 11 billionaires of India during the pandemic could sustain the NREGA scheme or the health ministry for 10 years,” the report said.

While the findings of Oxfam and other similar agencies are not considered by policymakers, they come at a time when Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman will surely keep the urban and rural poor in mind while presenting the Union Budget 2021-22, exactly a week from today.

The report said, out of a total 122 million Indians who lost their jobs in 2020, 75 percent or 92 million jobs, were lost in the informal sector. The mass reverse migration on foot by millions during the lockdown turned a health crisis into a humanitarian one.

The report also highlighted other gaps during the pandemic, like online education at a time when the poorest do not have access to phones of internet connectivity. It also spoke about health inequality

”Only 6 percent of the poorest 20 percent has access to non-shared sources of improved sanitation, compared to 93.4 percent of the top 20 percent. 59.6 percent of India’s population lives in a room or less. This meant that facilities to wash hands and maintaining distance, essential to prevent the spread of Coronavirus, was impossible for a majority of the population,” it said.

“17 million women lost their job in April 2020. Unemployment for women rose by 15 percent from a pre-lockdown level of 18 percent. This increase in unemployment of women can result in a loss to India’s GDP of about 8 per cent or $ 218 billion,” it said.