New Delhi: The top 100 billionaires in India earned Rs 12.98 lakh crore in the 10 months starting March 2020, when the Covid-19 lockdown first kicked in, while around 92 million people lost their jobs in the informal sector in the first two months, international NGO network Oxfam has said in a report.
Titled “The Inequality Virus”, the report seeks to assess the impact of Covid-19 on inequality around the world. It was released Monday, the opening day of the World Economic Forum’s ‘Davos Dialogues’.
The report also comprises a survey of 295 economists from 79 countries, which reveals that 87 per cent of the respondents expect an “increase” or a “major increase” in income inequality in their country as a result of the pandemic, which wreaked havoc on the economies of nations worldwide.
To emphasise its point, the report says the wealth of the 100 billionaires has increased enough that, if divided equally, it could translate to over Rs 94,000 each for 138 million of India’s poorest.
The increase in the wealth of the top 11 Indian billionaires during the pandemic, it says, could even sustain the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme for 10 years, or the health ministry for the same period.
At the same time, 170,000 people lost their jobs every hour in April 2020.
The billionaires taken into account for the report include Mukesh Ambani, Gautam Adani, Shiv Nadar, Cyrus Poonawalla, Uday Kotak, Azim Premji, Sunil Mittal, Radhakrishan Damani, Kumar Mangalam Birla, and Laxmi Mittal, whose interests span sectors like coal, oil, telecom, pharmaceuticals, education, and retail.
“It would take an unskilled worker 10,000 years to make what the Chairman of Reliance Industries Limited Mukesh Ambani made in an hour during the pandemic and three years to make what he made in a second”, the report states.
The sum Ambani earned during the pandemic, it adds, could keep the 400 million informal workers above the poverty line for at least five months.
“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 millions 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.
Rich got richer
According to the report, the wealth of Indian billionaires increased by 35 per cent between March and December 2020 to $422.9 billion (over Rs 30 lakh crore). This marks a 90 per cent increase since 2009, it states.
This was the sixth highest growth rate by country, with the top five seen in the US, China, Germany, Russia and France.
The wealth of billionaires increased across the globe during the pandemic. Between 18 March and 31 December 2020, the wealth of the top 1,000 billionaires of the world increased by $3.9 trillion (Rs 284 lakh crore) to $11.95 trillion (Rs 872 lakh crore) — which is equivalent to what the G20 governments have spent in response to the pandemic, the report states.
Within nine months, the report adds, the top 1,000 billionaires recovered all the wealth they had lost during the Covid-19-induced economic setback. “In contrast, after the financial crisis in 2008, it took five years for billionaire wealth to return to its pre-crisis high”, the report said.
The world’s 10 richest billionaires have collectively seen an increase in their wealth by $540 billion (Rs 39 lakh crore) from March to December 2020.
In India, the report states, 122 million people lost their jobs during the first two months of the Covid-19 lockdown (March and April 2020), of which 75 per cent or 92 million jobs were lost in the informal sector. Over 300 informal workers died during the mass exodus triggered by the sudden lockdown, it adds.
The report also points to the fact that the online education system is not accessible to many students — especially those from rural areas.
Only 4 per cent of rural households have a computer and less than 15 per cent had an internet connection, it adds.
According to the report, only 6 per cent of the poorest 20 per cent have access to non-shared sources of improved sanitation, compared to 93.4 per cent of the top 20 per cent.