It takes just four days for a CEO from one of the top five global fashion brands to earn what a Bangladeshi garment worker will earn in her lifetime. This irony was brought out by the Oxfam International Annual Inequality report to highlight the growing abyss between the rich and the poor. The situation is no less pathetic in India where 1% rich bagged 73% of the wealth created in 2017. The poorer half of India, about 67 crore people, received only 1% of the income generated. Oxfam’s report, titled ‘Reward work, not wealth’, is a scathing indictment of the growing inequality in societies created by faulty and exploitative models of capitalism, which are tilted in favour of the wealthy. The report was released to coincide with the World Economic Forum (WEF) summit at Davos, the yearly meeting of the super-rich. In the case of India, the rich-poor gulf has been widening every year. The share of wealth owned by 1% rich, which stood at 53% in 2015, went up to 73% in 2017 while wages have stagnated and unemployment has reached the highest point in decades. The Oxfam report estimates that for a minimum wage worker in rural India, it would take 941 years to earn what a top executive in a leading firm makes in a year. The flip side to India’s oft-repeated growth story is that the rich are getting richer and poor are becoming poorer. Another study — the World Economic Forum’s latest ‘Inclusive Development Index’– has found India at the 62nd position out of 74 emerging economies on a metric focused on the living standards of people. Incidentally, India is 15 notches below Pakistan on this index. It means that the benefit of economic prosperity is cornered by a miniscule minority, leaving the majority high and dry.
The gap between the rich and the poor is widening not only in income distribution but also in getting access to modern education, quality healthcare, better living conditions and rewarding employment opportunities. These two independent reports paint a grim picture of India’s policy of distributive justice. The policymakers cannot afford to be blind to the growing disparities in society. They must review the issues that have a potential to spoil India’s growth story. Agrarian crisis, growing rural unemployment and problems of small and medium enterprises need to be addressed in a holistic manner to fulfil the aspirations of millions of marginalised Indians. It is a constitutional obligation for governments to ensure economic justice along with social justice. One wonders at the irony of being the seventh largest economy in the world but the wealth generated is cornered by the top 1%.