The fortunes of India's top 100 billionaires increased by Rs 12.97 lakh crore since March 2020, enough to give every one of the 13.8 crore poorest Indians a cheque of Rs 94,045 each, non-profit group Oxfam said in a report released at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland.
The reported, titled 'The Inequality Virus', said the coronavirus pandemic has the potential to lead to an increase in inequality in almost every country at once, the first time this has happened since records began. The Indian supplement of the report said, "It would take an unskilled worker 10,000 years to make what Mukesh Ambani made in an hour during the pandemic and three years to make what he made in a second."
India had put in place one of the most stringent lockdowns to curb the spread of infections, but it also triggered unemployment, hunger, distress migration and untold hardship in its wake. "The 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," it said.
The mass exodus of migrants on foot after the lockdown, "inhuman beating", disinfection and quarantine conditions they were subjected to turned a health emergency into a humanitarian crisis, the report said.
About 12.2 crore people lost their jobs out of which 9.2 crore jobs were lost in the informal sector, the report said, adding that 1.7 crore women lost their job in April 2020 and unemployment for women rose by 15 per cent from a pre-lockdown level of 18 per cent.
"This increase in unemployment of women can result in a loss to India's GDP of about 8 per cent or USD 218 billion," it said.
The crisis has also highlighted the need to increase India's health budget. "There is an urgent need to enhance health's budgetary allocation to the tune of 2.5 per cent of GDP to reinvigorate the public health system, reduce out of pocket expenditure and strengthen health prevention and promotion," Oxfam India CEO Amitabh Behar said.
Globally, the wealth of world's 10 richest men increased by $540 billion during the COVID-19 pandemic, the report said, adding that it would take more than a decade for the world's poorest to recover from the economic impact of the pandemic.
"The virus has exposed, fed off and increased existing inequalities of wealth, gender and race," it said.
The increase in the wealth of world's ten richest men is more than enough to pay for a COVID-19 vaccine for everyone and to ensure no one is pushed into poverty by the pandemic. "At the same time, the pandemic has ushered in the worst job crisis in over 90 years with hundreds of millions of people now underemployed or out of work," it said.
Women, the report said, have been most impacted by the pandemic as they are over-represented in the low-paid precarious professions that have been hardest hit by the pandemic.
"Women and marginalised racial and ethnic groups are bearing the brunt of this crisis. They are more likely to be pushed into poverty, more likely to go hungry, and more likely to be excluded from healthcare," Oxfam International Executive Director Gabriela Bucher said, adding that the deep divide between the rich and the poor is proving as deadly as the virus.