India’s richest families saw their wealth reach a record high in 2021, even as 84 per cent of Indian households saw an income decline amid the pandemic, according to a report from non-profit Oxfam India titled ‘Inequality Kills’. It said the richest 98 Indians own the same wealth as the bottom 552 million people.
The number of Indian billionaires grew during the year from 102 to 142, according to the report published ahead of the World Economic Forum’s Davos Agenda. It called for higher taxation on the richest 10 per cent of the Indian population to help fund measures to reduce inequality. This could cover schemes for education, health care, and social security, according to the report titled ‘Inequality Kills’. The wealth of the top 100 families is now Rs 57.3 trillion, according to the report.
A separate analysis of the data from the World Inequality Report suggests that taxing the top 10 per cent would cover families with significantly lower wealth than the top 100. The average wealth of the top 100 families is Rs 5.7 trillion going by the Oxfam numbers. The average wealth of the top 10 per cent is Rs 63-65 lakh, shows a Business Standard analysis of the data from the World Inequality Report.
India was described as ‘very unequal,’ with the top 10 of the country holding 57 per cent of the wealth, while the share of the bottom half is 13 per cent. The report had also pointed out the role of higher taxation globally to reduce inequality.
The Oxfam report pointed out that government tax revenues are disproportionately dependent upon indirect taxes like the goods and services tax. This makes all people who buy a product or use a service pay tax at the same rate. This has the effect of the poorer sections of society’s tax rate being similar to that of the wealthiest, despite having lower income.
Among other suggestions, Oxfam also recommended at least two surveys every 10 years to measure inequality and better social security for informal workers.
It said a 4 per cent tax on the wealth of 98 billioaires can fund the mid-day meal programme for 17 years. A 1 per cent wealth tax would be enough to take care of the total expenditure for school education and literacy, or fund the government health insurance scheme Ayushman Bharat for more than seven years, according to the report.
Inequality has a significant negative impact, including on gender parity, which taxation of the wealthy can help address, according to Oxfam India Chief Executive Officer Amitabh Behar in a statement issued with the report.
“The pandemic has set gender parity back from 99 years to 135 years. Women collectively lost Rs 59.11 trillion ($800 billion) in earnings in 2020, with 13 million fewer women at work now than in 2019. It has never been so important to start righting the wrongs of this obscene inequality by targeting extreme wealth through taxation and getting that money back into the real economy to save lives,” said Behar.
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