A bulging top and a shrinking bottom. Galloping riches of a few at the top and falling wealth of the majority at the bottom. This is the sum and substance of the latest Oxfam report on the financial condition of India, released prior to the annual conclave of the International Monetary Fund at Davos in Switzerland. The top nine richest people have pocketed as much wealth as of the 50 per cent of the people at the bottom; the richest one per cent people are owning 51. 5 per cent of the wealth of the nation; the wealth of Mukesh Ambani, the richest Indian, stands at Rs. 2.8 lakh crore which is more than what the nation spends annually on medical, public health, sanitation and water supply… The nauseating data goes on and on in the report. It brings out the alarmingly rising gulf between the haves and the have-nots in India, which is raring to replace the United Kingdom as the fifth largest economy in the world.
The report poses major challenges to the rulers. First, the country is on the path of development. But majority of people are falling by the wayside on several parameters of development. Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently stated that his government has transferred Rs 5,80,000 crore to the bank accounts of the poor through various schemes. This is apart from the lakhs of crore being spent on social sectors and other areas of human development. If the money reaches its intended beneficiaries, there is no justification for the lopsided development which the Oxfam report has brought out. This is a clear indication that through the decades, irrespective of the government in power, money spent on social sectors and other development schemes has not reached the right people.
Second, when the economic reforms were initiated under the Narasimha Rao Government in 1991, the assumption was that the fruits of development would trickle down to the poor. But, as former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, one of the architects of economic liberalisation, admitted, the benefits of reforms have not percolated down as expected. On the other hand, the gains seem to have got stuck at the top layer, creating more billionaires in the process. Oxfam report points out that 18 billionaires were added to the list in 2018 itself.
Third, the government policies have a major share in the enormously widening gap between the poor and the rich. There is substance in the charge that the government’s decisions are meant to give sops to the rich and corporate houses while the same is denied to the poor. When industrialists get away with loan defaults, the poor end their life unable to pay back loans. The much-hyped two policy decisions of the government -- demonetization and implementation of GST -- prove this point. While both decisions did not have much adverse impact on the super rich in the country, the ordinary workers lost jobs in droves. The small and medium industries were at the receiving end while big industrialists were not affected much. The best way out of the present scenario, for the government, seems to follow what Gandhiji proposed several decades ago: “Recall the face of the poorest and weakest man you have seen, and ask yourself if this step you contemplate is going to be any use to him.”(Published on 28th January 2019, Volume XXXI, Issue 05)