A report by non-profit group Oxfam on Monday revealed that the wealth of India’s 100 billionaires including Mukesh Ambani, Gautam Adani, soared during the coronavirus pandemic, while millions of others in the country lost their livelihoods. The wealth of Indian billionaires increased by 35% during the coronavirus-induced lockdown, according to “The Inequality Virus” report, published as global leaders attend the World Economic Forum’s Davos summit in Switzerland.

“India’s 100 billionaires have seen their fortunes increase by Rs 12,97,822 crores since March 2020, enough to give every one of the 138 million poorest Indian people a cheque for Rs 94,045 each,” it said.

The non-profit group said other top India billionaires like Shiv Nadar, Cyrus Poonawalla, Uday Kotak, Azim Premji, Sunil Mittal, Radhakrishan Damani, Kumar Manglam Birla, and Laxmi Mittal working in sectors like coal, oil, telecom, medicines, pharmaceuticals, education and retail, also saw an exponential rise in wealth since March last year. In stark contrast, data shows that 1,70,000 people in India lost their jobs every hour in the month of April 2020, the report noted.

Reliance Industries chairperson Mukesh Ambani was making Rs 90 crore per hour during the coronavirus crisis when around 24% of the people in the country were earning under Rs 3,000 per month during the lockdown, Oxfam said as India witnesses its greatest rise in inequality. “It would take an unskilled worker 10,000 years to make what Ambani made in an hour during the pandemic and 3 years to make what Ambani made in a second.”

The report pointed out that the richest billionaires managed to sustain their wealth despite a once-in-a-century pandemic and India’s economy slipping into a technical recessionary phase for the first time ever when its Gross Domestic Product growth is negative or declining for two consecutive quarters or more. “The increase in wealth of even the the top 11 billionaires during the pandemic can easily sustain the MGNREGS scheme or the health ministry of India for the coming 10 years,” it added.

The pandemic has caused an economic storm that hit the poor and vulnerable hardest, with women and marginalised workers facing the worst of it in India, the Oxfam report said. “Seventeen million women lost their jobs in April 2020,” it stated. “Unemployment for women rose by 15% from a pre-lockdown level of 18%.”

A chart showing the increase in the wealth of top 11 billionaires. [Credit: Oxfam]
A chart showing the increase in the wealth of top 11 billionaires. [Credit: Oxfam]

Read the full report here:


Oxfam said that the Narendra Modi government introduced most stringent lockdowns to rein in the pandemic, unleashing unemployment, hunger, distress migration and “untold hardship”.

“India’s wealthiest people escaped the worst impact of the pandemic while majority of India suffered,” the charity said. “This gross asymmetry of power and resources is not just a moral argument, but a practical question... The increase in the wealth of the richest person in India during pandemic could keep 40 crore informal workers out of poverty for at least 5 months.”

The report said economists Jeffrey Sachs, Jayati Ghosh and Gabriel Zucman expect an “increase” or a “major increase” in income inequality in their respective countries America, India, and France.

“The report shows how the rigged economic system is enabling a super-rich elite to amass wealth in the middle of the worst recession and the biggest economic crisis in the history of independent India, while billions of people are struggling to make ends meet,” Oxfam India Chief Executive Officer Amitabh Behar said. “It reveals how the pandemic is deepening long-standing economic, caste, ethnic, and gender divides. While the coronavirus was being touted as a great equaliser in the beginning, it laid bare the stark inequalities inherent in the society soon after the lockdown was imposed.”

Meanwhile, the collective wealth of the world’s billionaires rose $3.9 trillion between March and December 2020 to reach $11.95 trillion, the report calculated. Oxfam said the money would be enough to prevent anyone from falling into poverty because of the coronavirus crisis and even pay for a vaccine for everyone on earth.