The top 1% of India’s population holds a higher share of the country’s income as compared to the United States, Brazil and South Africa, a World Inequality Lab study published on Tuesday said.

The report said that the rise of top-end inequality in India has been particularly pronounced in terms of wealth concentration between 2014-’15 and 2022-’23.

The study, titled “Income and wealth inequality in India, 1922-2023: The rise of the Billionaire Raj”, was authored by economists Nitin Kumar Bharti, Lucas Chancel, Thomas Piketty and Anmol Somanchi.

It said that the top 1% income and wealth shares were at their highest historical levels.

The top 1% of India’s population held 22.6% of the country’s income and 40.1% of wealth in 2022-’23, the report said. The organisation said that the wealth share of the top 1% of India’s population was the highest since 1961, when it began analysing this data.

“The ‘Billionaire Raj’ headed by India’s modern bourgeoisie is now more unequal than the British Raj headed by the colonialist forces,” the authors said. Extreme concentration of incomes and wealth was likely to “facilitate disproportionate influence” on society and government, the study said.

“After largely being a role model among post-colonial nations in this regard, the integrity of various key institutions in India appears to have been compromised in recent years,” the authors said. “This makes the possibility of India’s slide towards plutocracy even more real.”

The study also said that the last decade in India had seen major political and economic developments since the Bharatiya Janata Party came to power in 2014.

“While the BJP were voted into power on a mandate of development and economic reforms, many observers believe that over its two terms, it has led an authoritarian government with centralization of decision-making power coupled with a growing nexus between big-business and government,” it said.

The study, citing data from the Forbes billionaire rankings, said that the number of Indians with net worth exceeding $1 billion (approximately Rs 100 crores) increased from 1 in 1991 to 162 in 2022.

“Over this period, the total net wealth of these individuals as a share of India’s net national income boomed from under 1% in 1991 to a whopping 25% in 2022,” the authors said.

The study said that a “restructuring of the tax code to account for both income and wealth” was necessary in India.

“A ‘super tax’ of 2% on the net wealth of the 167 wealthiest families in 2022-’23 would yield 0.5% of national income in revenues and create valuable fiscal space to facilitate such investments,” the study said.

It also added that public investments in health, education and nutrition were needed to “enable the average Indian, and not just the elites,” to benefit from globalisation.

The study combined national income accounts, wealth aggregates, tax tabulations, rich lists, and surveys on income, consumption, and wealth in a consistent framework to present its findings.

The study also said that that the quality of economic data in India is “notably poor and has seen a decline recently”.

The authors added: “We call for improved access to official data and greater transparency to enhance the study of inequality and enable evidence-based public debates.”

Also read: India is among the most unequal countries, says World Inequality Report