The income of 84% Indian households declined in 2021 while the number of billionaires in the country grew from 102 to 142 during the last year, non-profit group Oxfam said in a report released on Sunday.

In its report titled “Inequality Kills”, Oxfam said that in 2021, the collective wealth of India’s 100 richest people hit a record high of Rs 57.3 lakh crore. However, in the same year, the bottom 50% of the country’s population held just 6% of the national wealth.

Oxfam’s analysis during the coronavirus pandemic (March 2020 to November 2021) showed that the wealth of Indian billionaires rose from Rs 23.14 lakh crore to Rs 53.16 lakh crore. In contrast, more than 4.6 crore Indians were estimated to have fallen into extreme poverty in 2020 alone. This number was nearly half of the global new poor according to the United Nations, Oxfam said in its report.

As a remedy to the growing wealth inequality in India, Oxfam suggested imposing a wealth tax on the super rich population of India.

“It was found that by taxing just these super-rich families only 1% of their wealth, India could fund its entire vaccination programme cost of INR 500 billion [Rs 50,000 crore],” the report noted. A 4% wealth tax on 98 richest families of India could account for the Union health ministry’s budget for two years and the mid-day meal programme for 17 years, the Oxfam report said.

Wealth of world’s 10 richest men doubled during pandemic

The non-profit group’s global report showed that the collective wealth of the world’s 10 richest men more than doubled from $700 billion (over Rs 52 lakh crore) to $1.5 trillion (over Rs 111 lakh crore), at an average rate of $1.3 billion (over Rs 9,600 crore every day) between March 2020 and November last year.

On the other hand, the pandemic has pushed 16 crore people into poverty with non-white ethnic minorities and women bearing the worst impact of the soaring wealth inequality, according to the report.

“Inequality at such pace and scale is happening by choice, not chance,” Gabriela Bucher, Oxfam’s executive director, said in a press release. “Not only have our economic structures made all of us less safe against this pandemic, they are actively enabling those who are already extremely rich and powerful to exploit this crisis for their own profit.”

The report described the inequality as “economic violence”, adding that it was contributing to the death of 21,000 people every day due to a lack of access to healthcare, gender-based violence, hunger and climate change.