Combined fortunes of billionaires in India more than doubled during the Coronavirus pandemic and their count shot up by 39 per cent to 142. Also the wealth of the 10 richest persons in the country is enough to fund school and higher education of children in the country for 25 years, the inequality survey released by Oxfam India on the first day of the World Economic Forum's (WEF) online Davos Agenda summit, noted.
Noting that the pandemic may have begun as a health crisis but has now become an economic problem, Oxfam said that the wealthiest 10 per cent in India have amassed 45 per cent of the national wealth, while the share of the bottom 50 per cent of the population is a mere 6 per cent.
The survey further said that the inadequate governmental expenditure on health, education and social security has gone hand-in-hand with a rise in the privatisation of health and education, thus making a full and secure COVID-19 recovery out of reach for the common citizen.
The study urged the government to revisit its primary sources of revenue generation, adopting more progressive methods of taxation and assessing its structural issues that permit such wealth accumulation by the rich.
Oxfam India further said that an additional one per cent tax on the richest 10 per cent can provide the country with nearly 17.7 lakh extra oxygen cylinders, while a similar wealth tax on the 98 richest billionaire families would finance Ayushman Bharat, the world's largest health insurance scheme, for more than seven years.
The pandemic saw a huge rush for oxygen cylinders and insurance claims during the second wave last year in India.
On wealth inequality, Oxfam report further said that 142 Indian billionaires collectively own wealth of $719 billion (over Rs 53 lakh crore), while the richest 98 of them now have the same wealth as the poorest 55.5 crore people in the bottom 40 per cent ($657 billion or nearly Rs 49 lakh crore).
Additionally, the government should also redirect revenue towards health, education and social security, treating them as universal rights and as a means of reducing inequality, thereby avoiding the privatisation model for these sectors, Oxfam said.
"We call upon the government to redistribute India's wealth from the super-rich to generate resources for the majority by reintroducing the wealth tax and to generate revenue to invest in the education and health of future generations by imposing a temporary one per cent surcharge on the rich for health and education," it said.
On gender inequality, Oxfam India said women accounted for 28 per cent of all job losses and lost two-thirds of their income during the pandemic.
On education inequality, the study said a 1 per cent of tax on wealth of the 98 billionaires in India can fund the total annual expenditure of the department of school education and literacy under the Ministry of Education, while 4 per cent of tax on their wealth can take care of Mid-Day-Meal programme of the country for 17 years or Samagra Sikshya Abhiyan for 6 years.