Policy change sought to end India's widening wealth gap

The wealthiest one percent of Indians hold 42.5 percent of national wealth, Oxfam study reveals
Policy change sought to end India's widening wealth gap

Poor Indian people check used or usable donated clothes before choosing them at the 'Wall of Humanity' launched by a charity in Ahmedabad city on Nov. 14, 2019. (Photo: Sam Panthaky/AFP) 

A policy correction is needed to stop India's rich accumulating wealth at the cost of the poor, says a socially active Catholic bishop after a study said one percent of Indians enjoy close to half of the country’s wealth.

The wealthiest one percent of Indians hold 42.5 percent of national wealth. In contrast, the bottom 50 percent of 1.2 billion Indians share a mere 2.8 percent, according to a new study by international voluntary group Oxfam.

“Unequal distribution of wealth is an inherent character of capitalism. Even though India is not a capitalist state, its economic structure is such that it leads to accumulation of wealth in the hands of a few,” said Bishop Thomas Pulloppillil of Bongaigaon in Assam state.

The bishop, who has initiated several projects to help the poor and mostly ethnic minority people in his northeastern state, said only a policy correction could end the trend of the poor becoming poorer.

The top 10 percent of Indians hold 74.3 percent of the wealth while the bottom 90 percent hold 25.7 percent, said the Oxfam study released on Jan. 20 in Davos, Switzerland, ahead of the Jan. 21-24 golden jubilee annual meeting of the World Economic Forum.

Bishop Pulloppillil said India's government has to form policies and systems to distribute the country’s wealth among its citizens equally.

"Unfortunately, our policies help the rich become richer and the poor poorer,” he told UCA News Jan. 21.

“Such contradictions in policy led to the current scenario, and it will further continue unless the government takes adequate measures to equal distribution of our wealth.” 

The Oxfam report said that “rising inequality also compromises the pace of poverty reduction and compounds inequalities between various social groups such as men and women in terms of access to health, education and opportunities.”

Successive governments have enacted social welfare policies for socially poor Dalits, farmers, women, aged persons and other weaker sections, Bishop Pulloppillil said. “But they were not good enough to bridge the widening wealth gap,” he said.

The model of democratic socialist Christian nations like Germany has done maximum justice to its citizens in terms of wealth distribution. “We need to follow such examples rather than focusing on a market-driven economy,” the bishop added.

Wealth inequality is a global problem. Just 2,153 billionaires have more wealth than 4.6 billion people or 60 percent of the world’s population, the study found.

India has some 130 US dollar billionaires. The wealth of just nine of them is equal to the bottom 50 percent of Indians or some 600 million people, the study said.

India’s top one percent increased their wealth by 46 percent last year. In comparison, the bottom 50 percent of Indians’ wealth rose only by 3 percent.

The study said a female domestic worker in India must work 22,277 years to earn what a chief executive of a technology company makes in one year.

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