By Dr Gian Singh*
The Inequality Virus Report released by Oxfam, a non-profit organization, on January 25, 2021 on the growing inequalities in different parts of the world, sheds light on the growing economic, educational, healthcare and gender inequalities in India. The report has revealed that the wealth of billionaires has increased by 35 per cent during the lockdown period in the country.
The Indian economy ranks sixth in the world after the United States, China, Germany, Russian Federation and France. With increased wealth of 100 billionaires of the country during the lockdown period, a check of Rs. 94045 could be given to every poor man. The wealth raised by just 11 billionaires in the country during the Coronavirus Coronavirus Pandemic could cover the expenses of MGNREGA or the Ministry of Health in the next 10 years. While billionaires continued to amass wealth by escaping the deadly effects of the Coronavirus pandemic, poor workers continued to suffer from unemployment, starvation, and death.
The report reveals that Mukesh Ambani, Gautam Adani, Shiv Nader, Cyrus Poonawala, Uday Kotak, Azim Premji, Sunil Mittal, Radhakrishnan Damani, Kumar Mangalam Birla and Lakshmi Mittal were among the richest billionaires who have amassed huge wealth after the March 2020 lockdown. In April 2020, 170,000 working people lost their jobs every hour.
Mukesh Ambani, who has become the richest man in India and Asia, earned Rs 90 crore per hour during the Coronavirus pandemic, while 24 per cent of the country’s population earned less than Rs 3,000 per month. With the increase in his wealth, 40 per cent of the informally employed workers can be lifted out of poverty for 5 months. The report has also revealed that it would take 10,000 years for an ordinary worker to earn as much as Mukesh Ambani earned in an hour during the pandemic.
In terms of health services, 93.4 per cent of the country’s top 20 per cent have their own sanitation facilities, while only 6 per cent of the poorest 20 per cent have such facilities. As many as 59.6 per cent of the country’s population lives in one room or less, as a result of which they are not even in a position to maintain the required physical distance to survive the Coronavirus pandemic.
As many as 32 crore students were affected by the closure of schools till October 2020 out of which 84 per cent were villagers and 70 per cent were studying in government schools. Forty per cent of government school teachers in the country’s five states fear that one-third of their children will not be able to attend school when the schools reopen. Dalits, Adivasis and Muslims will outnumber other school dropouts. The female students would be hit hard the most because of their early forced marriages, abortions and different types of violence.
The pre-lockdown unemployment rate for women workers, which was 15 per cent, has risen to 18 per cent during this period, which could lead to a decline in India’s GDP by about 8 per cent. Women who were employed before the lockdown period may have a 23.5 per cent lower chance of regaining employment after the lockdown period than male workers.
Inequalities in India have not arisen spontaneously, but are the result of policies formulated and implemented by our rulers. The people who fought and sacrificed a lot to liberate the country from the British rule had a dream that an independent India would move forward by overcoming all forms of inequalities and making the lives of the people here comfortable and dignified.
To fulfill these dreams after independence, the Planning Commission was set up in 1950 and Five-Year Plans were introduced from 1951. The implementation of these plans led to the emergence of a mixed economy in which the public sector was created, expanded and developed, and the functioning of the private sector was monitored and regulated
Although there were some shortcomings in the functioning of the public sector, but they were misrepresented by the capitalist world and their courtiers, there was a commendable increase in employment opportunities and standards for the working people during the planning period (1951-80). As a result, free services were provided to the general public which reduced economic inequalities in the country.
Planning was put in the reverse gear by the countries’ rulers since 1980, and the NDA government by abolishing the Planning Commission established a pro-capitalist NITI Aayog. The ‘new economic policies’ of liberalization, privatization and globalization introduced in the country since 1991 have hit the public sector enterprises hard and started selling them to the capitalist/ corporate world for pennies which has continued unabated.
As a result of these policies, numerous concessions/favours are being given to the capitalist/corporate world. The opportunities and quality of employment are being reduced which are resulting in growing numerous inequalities in the country and the ordinary working people struggle to control their appetite by eating only two bites of bread, what to talk fulfilling their basic needs of food, clothing, housing, education, healthcare, clean environment and social security.It would take 10,000 years for an ordinary worker to earn as much as Mukesh Ambani earned in an hour during the pandemicAbout 50 per cent of the country’s population depends on agriculture for their livelihood, which is being given about 16 per cent of the national income. In 1951, 82 per cent of the country’s population depended on agriculture for their livelihood, was being given 55 per cent of the national income. The plight of peasants, farm labourers and rural artisans out of the country’s agriculturally dependent population has made it extremely unsatisfactory.
Landless farm labourers and rural artisans have no other means of production but to sell their manual labour. The use of machinery and herbicides in the package of New Agricultural Technology adopted to meet the food needs of the country has reduced the employment opportunities and quality of employment of these workers in the agricultural sector.
Research studies have revealed that due to the economic and agricultural policies formulated and adopted by the rulers, almost all peasants, farm labourers and small artisans are born in poverty and debt, live their hard life in poverty and debt and after leaving huge debt and extreme poverty for the coming generations either they die a death of deprivation or when all their hopes of life are dashed, they start committing suicides.
Leaving the mountain of debt and abject poverty for their future generations, they either die a miserable death or even commit suicide when all hopes for their lives are dashed. The Union government has enacted three laws relating to agriculture paving the way for the eviction of farmers, farm labourers, rural small artisans and other sections dependent on the agricultural sector. When these laws are fully implemented these would further increase the already sharply growing inequalities.
The 66th round of the National Sample Survey has revelated that 92.8 per cent of the country’s workers were in informal employment during 2009-10. In the last 10 years, not only has the number of formally employed workers been reduced, but the quality of employment has been brought down to a very low level. The latest example is the lockdown introduced during the Coronavirus pandemic.
During this time the informally employed workers were evicted without any compensation or financial assistance due to which these workers had to travel long distances to reach their homes and faced many hardships and many families have lost their bread earners. The way in which the public sector is being axed and public institutions are being sold at very low prices to the capitalist / corporate world. The problems faced by the employed workers will increase.
In the development of the industrial sector in the country, all possible help is being given to the large industrial units, as a result of which their dominance in increasing their wealth and making and implementing government policies in their favour is constantly increasing. The increasing use of machinery and automated machinery in large industrial units is seriously eroding the employment and quality of employment.
Small scale industrial units, which mostly boost employment, are being discouraged by the government in various ways. The services sector has made a lot of gains, but the employment opportunities in this sector are also very limited and they are also generally for those who speak and write English and have knowledge of computer work. Most of the workers employed in this sector have such a meager income that they make a living with great difficulty. The services rendered by this sector have become so expensive that the working class cannot even dream of taking advantage of them.
An increase in the economic growth rate of the country can be significant only if the economic development caused by it raises the living standards of the working class. In order to overcome the growing inequalities in the country, it is necessary to adopt a people-friendly and nature-friendly economic development model which ensures expansion and development of the public sector and monitoring and control over the private sector.
According to the Oxfam report and the suggestions made by Nobel Prize-winning economist Stiglitz and other economists, taxes on the rich should be increased, markets should be monitored and regulated, and quality education and healthcare services should be provided free of charge to everyone. The government should ensure quality employment to all the working people.
*Former professor, department of economics, Punjabi University, Patiala