The top 1% holds over four times the wealth held by 953 million people (or the bottom 70% of the population). Despite the global market downturn, the rank of India’s super-rich continues to swell.
While India’s economy is in a growth recession and the government is anticipated to cut its social spending budget to make ends meet, its top 1% holds 42.5% of national wealth. The total wealth of Indian billionaires is higher than the total Union Budget of India for the fiscal year 2018-19 which was at INR 24,42,200 crore.
As the time for India’s budget for 2020 approaches, it is time to consider whether this concentration of wealth in the hands of the elite truly benefits India. Morally, is it right for a female domestic worker to take 22,277 years to earn what a top tech CEO makes in a year? While an Indian is the richest man in Asia, India saw 8.8 lakh malnutrition deaths in 2018, the highest in the world. 27% of deaths in India are preventable, caused by poor access to drugs and medicines. India’s education is segregated by income with the rich attending elite private schools (in India or abroad) while over 300 million Indians remain illiterate. India’s rich and poor grow up in different worlds and spend the rest of their lives separate. This level of inequality derails India’s development project and puts national cohesion at risk
This is not inevitable. India needs to increase corporate taxation and introduce more targeted taxes on the super-rich (including inheritance tax and tax on dividends) to plough back India’s wealth for the benefit of all of India’s citizens. The wealth thus generated should provide more resources for improving public education and health and expanding social protection. More action is needed to address corruption and tax evasion given that the Fifteenth Finance Commission calculates that India may be losing ₹5 trillion in indirect tax revenue a year, amounting to 40% of its goods and services tax (GST) collection target, because of defaults and evasion. It is time that India’s elites made their contribution to India by paying their fair share of taxes.
At the same time, more is needed to address the burning needs of the poor and marginalized. It is time that everyone received a fair living wage and no one died because they could not afford to access healthcare. It is time for India to commit to a universal right to healthcare through the public health system and universal early childhood and secondary education. Doing so is critical to ensure that every Indian citizen has the best opportunities in life. At the same time, more needs to be done to address historical discrimination against Dalits, Adivasis and Muslims and ensure that the highest quality of services reach those that are marginalized.
People across the world are demanding change. The last week saw protests against inequality in 30 countries, including India, demanding an end to extreme wealth and rising inequality. In India, citizens from 18 states came together to demand a more equal and fair society. In Delhi, youth from poor communities performed street plays on inequality in some of its most elite spaces like Connaught Place and Dilli Haat as well as their own communities triggering dialogue on these issues. In West Bengal and Jharkhand, mine workers are campaigning for workers’ rights and in Manipur the National Hawkers’ Federation came out on the streets demanding an end to inequality. In Chhattisgarh, cycle yatras will be held to mobilise people against increasing inequality and trigger discussions about ways of reducing it. In Uttar Pradesh, young people across 15 districts of the state mobilised against inequality. Education groups mobilized on 24th January on the occasion of the International Day on Education demanding an end to discrimination in education against women and girls. Persons with disabilities are mobilising against their continued exclusion and failure to implement existing legislations for their empowerment. Citizens across the country want an end to inequality. It is time for the government to listen.