Hurun India Rich List: Malnourished and the multi-billionaires

The rich will only get richer, irrespective of the poor getting richer or not

By DTE Staff
Published: Friday 01 October 2021
A homeless family. Photo: istock
A homeless family. Photo: istock A homeless family. Photo: istock

Getting rich is so unbelievable and unachievable in this time of great distress that one tends to attribute even a miniscule increase in wealth to divine interventions.

India has 1,007 individuals with over Rs 1,000 crore, with 179 of them joining this distinct listing for the first time in 2021, when the country was yet to come out of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) lockdown.

This is the latest from the Hurun India Rich List 2021. To make this piece of ‘good news’ believable, perhaps keeping in mind the public unacceptability, the Hurun India Rich List 2021 has identified India’s richest zodiac signs as well. As if being born in certain zodiac signs entitles you to be a billionaire. 

We expect a feverish round of polarised debate — one side celebrating the new billionaires as a reflection of India’s economic might; the other side countering it as an unmissable sign of wealth inequality, more so in the time of the COVID-19 pandemic that has decimated the economy.  

Down To Earth will release its latest book — The Pandemic Journal — October 8. The book is an exhaustive recounting of the COVID-19 pandemic nightmare. It has captured how the pandemic made us further unequal. Excerpts:

“The rich will only get richer, irrespective of the poor getting richer or not. The same had been established since the financial crisis of 2008. But this was the once-in-a-century pandemic period. One would get curious about the impacts of the pandemic on the world’s richest. Did they lose?

The Hurun Global Rich List was out on March 3, 2021. India had added 40 new billionaires in 2020. The list ranked Mukesh Ambani as the country’s wealthiest with a net worth of $83 billion. He registered a 24 per cent growth in his wealth.

The world proudly welcomed eight billionaires a week as the pandemic rampaged across countries decimating their economies, the Hurun Rich List showed. According to, “The world’s leading billionaires added over one trillion dollars to their collective wealth during the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.”

That this bloom of the billionaires continued uninterrupted, even without an exception in a year of pandemic, was the news. This made that popular perception of “rich get richer, poor get poorer” into a stark piece of secular news.

If the past was the indicator of the present, inequality in wealth had become the essential by-product of economic growth.  As we had been debating the death of capitalism and the free market model, the world after the 2008 global meltdown was a pointer to this fact. By 2018, the 10th anniversary of the 2008 crisis, non-profit Oxfam reported that the number of billionaires had nearly doubled. “Meanwhile the wealth of the poorest half of humanity, 3.8 billion people, fell by 11 per cent,” said one of its wealth distribution annual reports.

More to it, the “trickle” had not been ensured as only 4 per cent of taxes came from such wealth. Rather, in some countries (like Brazil and UK), “when tax paid on incomes and tax paid on consumption (value-added tax or VAT) were both considered, the richest 10% are actually paying a lower rate of tax than the poorest 10%”. The “super rich” apparently hid $7.6 trillion from tax authorities. “There is no law of economics that says the richest should grow ever richer while people in poverty die for lack of medicine.

It makes no sense to have so much wealth in so few hands, when those resources could be used to help all of humanity. Inequality is a political and a policy choice,” said Oxfam.  Former International Monetary Fund Deputy Managing Director David Lipton even blogged (though controversially) that voters across the developed and developing countries were losing “trust” in globalisation. He argued that this had the potential capacity to “tear down” the international order, read globalisation model.

An honest assessment but, as one delved a bit into his argument, he said so basically from the perspective of those who have already benefited from the recession since 2008. He wrote: “This resentment will make it far harder for taxpayers’ money to be used to shore up banks during the next crisis. If a future recession harms ordinary workers and small businessmen, states will come under pressure to financially support these people as they did for the banks in 2008. This could push up public sector debt to dangerously high levels.” One could realise how true he was. The pandemic just did that. But, as we experience now, countries were pumping in money to support the pandemic struck citizens, even though not adequately. Public debt was surely increasing, and there was also enormous pressure on governments from the public to support.

But it raised a question: if countries were supporting people just to tide over, and the economies were in shambles, how come a handful of individuals continued to remain unaffected by the downturn? Earlier the Oxfam India said “It would take an unskilled worker 10,000 years to make what Ambani made in an hour during the pandemic and 3 years to make what Ambani made in a second.” Another wealth ranking report called “Allianz Global Wealth Report 2020” in fact titled 2020 as the “Year of the Rich”. The annual report said: “We didn’t really have to wait for the pandemic to wipe out the progress made in making the world more equal in terms of wealth distribution. 2019 widened the wealth gap between rich and poor countries again, increasing the difference in net financial assets per capita to 22 times from 19 times in 2016.”

This was still well below the gap of 87 times that we had in 2000 but the trend reversal was disturbing indeed, the Allianz report said. There was inequality in wealth. But in case of a disaster that struck all, there were surmises that the level of inequality might come down. But in reality, it had further widened. Allianz economist Patricia Pelayo Romero was quoted saying, “It is quite worrying that the gap between rich and poor countries started to widen again even before COVID-19 hit the world.” “Because the pandemic will very likely increase inequality further, being a setback not only to globalisation but also disrupting education and health services, particularly in low income countries.

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