May 2022 - 5:39 pm IST

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Fight inequality, save lives

Fight inequality, save lives

Published:22 January 2022

# Jacob Peenikaparmbil

“Fight Inequality, Save Lives”is the title of the Oxfam report 2022. The report says, “Inequality is a killer, contributing to the death of at least one person every four seconds. It makes our world less safe for all of us. This is not by chance, but by choice. For a more equal future, we must fight inequality together”.

Bhopal | “Fight Inequality, Save Lives”is the title of the Oxfam report 2022. The report says, “Inequality is a killer, contributing to the death of at least one person every four seconds. It makes our world less safe for all of us. This is not by chance, but by choice. For a more equal future, we must fight inequality together”.
Oxfam is an international confederation of 20 NGOs working with partners in over 90 countries to end injustices that cause poverty. It advocates just economies that put people and planet at the centre, fights for gender justice and against any form of violence against women and girl children, takes action to stop climate crisis and demands accountable governance. One of the important activities of Oxfam is studying systematic inequalities in the world and publishing annual reports.
Oxfam report 2022 has many Takeaways for India, especially for the policy makers and decision makers. The most important among them is that the income of 84% of households in India declined in 2021, but at the same time the number of Indian billionaires grew from 102 to 142. Their collective wealth is estimated to be almost $720 billion. India has the third highest number of billionaires in the world, just behind China and the United States.
As an example of the increasing concentration of wealth in the hands of a few, the report has highlighted the climb in the wealth of two business leaders of India. Gautam Adani added $42.7 billion to his fortune as per Bloomberg Billionaires Index. Mukesh Ambani’s net worth increased by $13.3 billion in 2021, and his total wealth is estimated to be at $97 billion.
Another startling revelation by the report is that in 2021, the share of the bottom 50 per cent of the population in national wealth was a mere 6 per cent. The report also states that more than 4.6 crore Indians are estimated to have fallen into extreme poverty in 2020, nearly half of the global new poor according to the United Nations. The urban unemployment climbed as high as 15% in May 2020.
The report has pointed out some of the drawbacks of the measures adopted by the government of India. The country’s healthcare budget saw a 10% decline from RE (revised estimates) of 2020-21. There was a 6% cut in allocation for education. In other words two vital sectors that contribute to human development suffered during the reporting period.
There could be various reasons for the jump in the wealth of the billionaires, but the report highlights a few reasons for making the rich richer: the abolition of a wealth tax in 2016, steep cuts in corporate levies, and an increase in indirect taxation. Besides these, the structure of revenue kept the control of resources in the hands of the central government whereas the management of the pandemic was left to the states – who were not equipped to handle it with its financial or human resources.
The report has recommended the government to impose a 1% surcharge on the richest 10% of the population, higher investments in school education, universal health care, social security benefits like maternity leaves, paid leaves and pension for all Indians. 
Jump in income inequality doesn’t augur well for any country. It is against the ideal envisaged in the constitution of India. Phenomenal increase in the gap between the rich and the poor can jeopardize equality of rights and opportunities implied in the principle of equality. Rising economic inequality can lead to discontentment in the poorer sections that may result in social unrest. Social amity among the different sections of society also could be disturbed by rising economic inequalities.
A policy of the government that leaves all economic activities to the market forces without any control by it will naturally result in economic disparities. The state has the responsibility of guiding economic activities in tune with the vision of India as envisaged in the Indian Constitution so that the benefits of economic growth should reach all sections of society. This is generally done through progressive direct taxation and state investing enough resources on human resource development and welfare activities. The government has to put in place appropriate policies from time to time to give direction to the economic growth and redistribution of wealth.
One significant and immediate step to be taken by the government of India and the state governments in this direction is making good quality education available to all Indians without any discrimination. In the present system, good quality education is available mainly to the people who can pay. Government should not leave education, especially school education, to the private sector. Indeed the efficiency of the private sector could be utilized by converting the private unaided schools into aided schools. For this purpose, the government of India has to increase its spending on education up to 6% of GDP as recommended by the Kothari Commission years ago.
Another sector that needs urgent attention of the government is health care. The pathetic state of our health care was revealed during the second wave of coronavirus. Public spending on health has been a little more than 1% of GDP for close to 15 years. According to health experts, this has to be increased up to 3% of GDP, if India has to provide affordable health care to all Indian citizens.



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