The Covid virus drew a greater divide between the rich and the poor. Statistically, an unskilled worker would take a whopping 10,000 years to make as much money as Reliance Industries’ Mukesh Ambani made in an hour during the pandemic. Further, it would take the same person three years to make what one of Asia’s richest men Mukesh Ambani made in a second, according to Oxfam’s latest report ‘The Inequality Virus’. Moreover, Mukesh Ambani’s pandemic earnings would keep the 40 crore informal workers, who are at risk of falling into poverty due to Covid, above the poverty line for at least five months.
Along with Mukesh Ambani, the tribe of overall 100 billionaires in India saw nearly Rs 13 lakh crore jump in wealth since March 2020, which is “enough to give every one of the 138 million (nearly 14 crore) poorest Indian people a cheque for Rs 94,045 each,” Oxfam said in the statement citing the report. While the report usually focused on the growing inequality between the rich and the poor in its past editions, this year it was Covid-centric.
While the likes of Kumar Manglam Birla, Uday Kotak, Gautam Adani, Azim Premji, Sunil Mittal, Shiv Nadar, Laxmi Mittal, Cyrus Poonawalla, and Radhakrishan Damani, became exponentially richer since March 2020 amid economic turmoil, 1.7 lakh people lost their jobs every hour in April 2020, as per the report’s findings.
According to Oxfam, figures on the richest people came from Forbes’ 2020 Billionaires List. The wealth of Indian billionaires grew 35 per cent during the lockdown and 90 per cent since 2009 to $422.9 billion. This ranked India sixth globally after the US, China, Germany, Russia, and France. The rise in wealth of Indian billionaires was so overwhelming that the top 11 billionaires of India during the pandemic could sustain the National Rural Employment Guarantee scheme for 10 years or the health ministry for 10 years with their increased wealth.
“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,” said Amitabh Behar, CEO, Oxfam India in the statement.
While India had enforced one of the earliest and most stringent lockdowns following the pandemic to arrest the virus breakout, it had impacted the economy severely. It triggered unemployment, hunger, distress migration, and more. Amid the chaos, a majority of the people had lost their livelihood while the white-collar workers isolated themselves and continued working from home, according to Oxfam.
The findings noted that informal workers were worst hit as out of 122 million who lost their jobs, 75 per cent, which accounted for 92 million jobs, were lost in the informal sector. Also, more than 300 informal workers died due to starvation, suicides, exhaustion, road and rail accidents, police brutality, and denial of timely medical care. Oxfam said that the National Human Rights Commission had recorded more than 2582 cases of human rights violations as early as April 2020. “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.