covid-19 and inequality in india. The epidemic has exposed the societal consequences of inequality startlingly. Hundreds of lives could have been saved if considerably more money had been invested in public health care. Had labor protection, social security, and pay rates of workers been secured, the eruption of mass hunger and joblessness, as well as the dispersion of millions of working poor people, could have been avoided.
“Inequality Kills,” according to a damning report presented by Oxfam India during the World Economic Forum in Davos. The pandemic became a time for India’s super-rich to amass vast sums of money. In India, the worst year of the pandemic was 2021. Gautam Adani, an Indian billionaire, saw his net worth increase eightfold this year, from $8.9 billion in 2020 to $50.5 billion in 2021. Mukesh Ambani’s net fortune increased to $85.5 billion in 2021, catapulting him from India to Asia’s richest man. Starting in March 2020, when the pandemic began, Ambani added Rs 90 crore to his fortune every hour. In India, the number of dollar billionaires increased by 39% in 2021.
During the same period, up to 84 percent of Indian households saw their income collapse, plunging many into severe and persistent poverty. The Reserve Bank of India forecasted a GDP drop of minus 8.7% to 7%. There were 120 million employment losses, with 92 million in the informal economy. According to the FAO, India has 200 million undernourished individuals in 2021, accounting for a quarter of all undernourished people worldwide.
The majority of the horrific economic wreckage that surrounds us in India now — deaths, joblessness, and hunger — is not caused primarily by the Covid-19 virus, according to media assessments. They are the result of market-driven public policies that have resulted in unequal living opportunities. This has become increasingly apparent in these times of global disaster.
Our vision of a new India begins with the state taking responsibility for providing adequate healthcare, education, food, pensions, clean water, and housing to all citizens, either for free or at a reasonable cost. In his contribution to the Centre for Equity Studies’ India Exclusion Report, economist Prabhat Patnaik states that funding all of this will require a public resolve to increase taxation of the super-rich. He calculates that two taxes applied just on the top 1% of the population — a 2% wealth tax and a 33% inheritance tax — are sufficient to cover all of this.
Our administration is doing the exact opposite; in 2015, it repealed the wealth tax and decreased the already low corporation tax rate. As a result, the poor are burdened by regressive taxation, and government spending is pitifully low. Those who care about a kinder world must use this opportunity when the pandemic has revealed the horror of our moral collapse; of economic and societal arrangements that favor certain lives while treating others as disposable. Our current struggle must be for a new social compact founded on solidarity and inclusion.