India's mega rich
are migrating to foreign shores, with at least 7,000 US dollar millionaires changing their residence status last year alone, spurring fears the country may see more human and capital flight unless it improves its standard of living. Most relocated to new homes in North America, the Antipodes — specifically Australia and New Zealand — and the United Arab Emirates, according to a report by global market research group New World Wealth. Observers say this resembles a trend seen in China and other developing countries that are amassing new wealth at an accelerated rate. Some 10,000 rich Chinese changed their country of residence in 2017. But the exodus of wealthy Indians, and Chinese, to developed nations is not occurring on a large enough scale to warrant panic as both countries are still minting far more millionaires than they are losing, the report said. "Once the standard of living
in these countries improves, we expect wealthy people to move back," it added.
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It cited the standard of living in India as a bigger factor in people's decision to leave rather than other claims that they are seeking tax havens and aiming to make themselves eligible for the benefits awarded to overseas investors. Records show a dovetailing trend of more rich people moving out of India as the standard of living there keeps falling. Some 16 percent more of this elite group migrated
last year compared to 2016.
Compared to 2014 when roughly 4,000 dollar millionaires moved abroad, the number had jumped 75 percent by 2017. Others fear they will never return as conditions at home worsen. They claim it is not just those with a high degree of financial independence who are bailing on India but also students and white-collar workers who can find gainful employment overseas. The US already has 2.2 million Indians living there. The number of Indians leaving the country on an annual basis has more than doubled since the turn of the millennium. The Indian diaspora totalled 8 million in the year 2000 but reached 16.6 million in 2017 to rank as the biggest in the world, according to U.N. data
. The job security offered by a company in the United States or Europe, paired with the improved living conditions in those countries, is a tempting prospect few university students would sniff at. India, where millions of people still have no access to safe drinking water, is beset with health-related and other problems including rampant graft, according to authorities like the Central Pollution Control Board. Some 68 percent of Indian water sources contain what is known as fecal coliform — a kind of bacteria found in feces. Meanwhile, many fruit and vegetables for sale at fresh markets and supermarkets are contaminated with high levels of pesticides
. Indian law provides a system of checks and balances but chronic corruption and bribery allow unscrupulous actors to work around this. Even more alarming is the fact that most Indian cities do not have an internationally acceptable level of "breathable" air
, according to the Air Quality Index published by the World Health Organization (WHO). The WHO recommends a level of
20 but Indian cities
often greatly exceed this. New Delhi is the worst culprit with a level of 290. Big cities face problems seen in other developing countries in Asia like congested roads and open piles of waste as well as a lack of hygiene in rest rooms at public transport stations but critics say the government is doing too little to address these issues. In addition, increasing privatization in fields ranging from and energy and mining to transport are leading to more cronyism, with industrialists effectively bossing around the local government. India recorded 330,400 dollar millionaires last year
and 20,730 individuals with personal wealth in excess of US$2 million, according to New World Wealth. The country is expected to see the number of dollar millionaires jump 50 percent by 2025 and double by 2028. However, while the rich are on the rise, so the poor are getting poorer. An Oxfam study released early this year said 73 percent of India's wealth lies with just 1 percent of the population, or some 12 million people. Considering that India has 1.2 billion people, those sharing the remaining 27 percent still exceed a billion. At the bottom of this pyramid are those going to bed on an empty stomach. And they are officially 22 percent, or 276 million. Then comes the burden of religion, culture and caste for the poor. Ideologically misguided young men — mostly poor — harass, attack or even lynch people whom they consider to have violated their religious beliefs or ideals. They even dictate dress codes for women and restrict their movement. The silence of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which has adopted Hindutva or the Hindu nationhood as its pronounced ideology, encourages such vigilantism. Projecting itself as the champion of Hindu values could get votes for the party. However, the silence of the government has also helped a new trend of Hindu cultural assertion emerge among the masses, especially in villages. It despises anything that is not in conformity with Hindu cultural ethos. But educated Indians love their freedom, even if it is far away in the U.S. The power-hungry BJP, which has run the government for the last four years, has been accused of influencing judicial systems to favor its policies and decisions. Much of the Indian media, both electronic and print, is now funded by a few industrial groups considered BJP supporters. That's the state of the judiciary and media, once revered for their independence and impartiality. More seems to be coming. BJP leaders have gone on record as saying the constitution, which asserts India as a secular and democratic nation, needs to be changed. It comes amid growing fear among religious minorities that the BJP could change constitutional provisions to suit its idea of a Hindu nation if it wins a majority in both houses of parliament after the next election. It lacks such a majority now. The fear of India becoming a Hindu Pakistan — a failed state — is real. A state run by crony capitalists, a government controlled by hard-line militant ideologies, media filled with fake news, and a judiciary buckling under ideological pressure. Is the path not clear? No wonder many Indians are taking flights out when they can.