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Economic Imbalance

Economic Imbalance

In the wake of Covid-19, both central and state governments agreed in principle to give a cash relief ranging from one thousand to six thousand rupees to the marginal farmers, migrant labourers and economically backward people. In reality, a vast majority of the people have not received any money till date. Such people have expressed their woes when interviewed by many TV channels. On the other side, TV debates are held for and against the compensatory amount. 

When some of the corporate giants recently contributed crores of rupees to ‘PM Cares’, my friend, who is running an NGO, asked me, “Sir, why can’t these corporates give their donations directly to the people?”. I answered him, “These corporates will NEVER give the money directly to the people as they will not gain anything. When they give to PM Cares, then, they will get a lot of support from the government”. Classic examples: Just a few days ago, RBI had written off 68,700 crore loan of 50 wilful defaulters, all of them bank scam corporates. Baba Ramdev donated 25 crores to PM Cares and his loans of 2212 crore have been written off. It is a “give-and-take policy” that the government and corporates follow.

In spite of having huge money, the government, its departments and officials try to project India as economically backward country. On many occasions I have heard educated people making a statement: “India is a poor country”. If this is the idea that educated people have, then, what about the uneducated and illiterate population? The pragmatic and realistic statement should be: “India is a rich country with economically backward people”.       

If India is really a rich country, then, where is the wealth? Who is holding most of the wealth? What is the extent of black money in India? In 2017 a study was undertaken by Kotak Wealth Management. The researchers interviewed 150 super-wealthy individuals in India’s major cities of Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai and Bengaluru, and others like Hyderabad, and Ahmedabad. Senior personnel at major global luxury brands, art gallery owners, product dealers and industry body representatives were also interviewed. The study estimates that India has about 62,000 super-rich households, with a total wealth of around 45 trillion rupees ($1 trillion.) This is expected to grow to 235 trillion rupees ($5.3 trillion) in five years (by 2022).

What do Swiss banks reveal? With personal account bank deposit of $1,500 billion, an amount 13 times larger than the country’s foreign debt, one needs to rethink if India is really a poor country? From Swiss bankswe can conclude that Indians have more money with them than the rest of the world. This is so shocking. If black money deposit was an Olympics event, then, India would have won a gold medal hands down.

Dishonest industrialists, scandalous politicians and corrupt bureaucrats have deposited in foreign banks in their illegal personal accounts money that has been misappropriated by them . As per the study, some 80,000 people seem to travel from India, to Switzerland every year, of whom 25,000 travel very frequently. What could be reason for their travel? It is obviously for the sake of black money, believes an official involved in tracking illegal money.

We are surprised to note that worship centres in India also compete with corporate infrastructure – i.e. Hindu temples adorned with gold and diamonds; Saudi Arabian styled posh mosques; precious marble-structured Sikh and Jain temples; western styled single, two-tier and palatial Christian churches with sky-rise towers (all multi-crore projects) and spacious 5-star ashrams/residences of religious leaders etc. Here is a list of a few selected wealthy temples and their income:

1.   Padmanabhaswamy Temple in Kerala is the richest temple possessing wealth of around 20 billion dollars.

2.   Tirumala Tirupati Venkataswara Temple in AP gets an annual donation of more than Rs.650 crore.

3.   Shirdi Sai Baba Shrine in Mumbai has gold and silver worth Rs.32 crore and the annual donation of the temple is around Rs.360 crore.

4.   Vaishno Devi Temple in Jammu earns Rs.500 crore annually.

5.   Siddhivinayak Temple, Mumbai gets an annual income ranging from Rs.50 to Rs.125 crore.

6.   Meenakshi Amman Temple in Madurai earns an annual income of 100 to 125 crore.

7.   During the pilgrimage season, Sabarimala Temple in Kerala gets an income of more than 250 crore.

A natural question will come to the readers’ minds: Why Islam and Christianity are left out? The two-pronged answer is: a) Muslim population in India is 13.5% and Christian population is 2.5%. b) Details of the income of their ‘worship centres’ is not available. The Hindu population is about 82% and hence there is a vast number of temples located all over India and they earn a huge income.     

The fact is that India has plenty of wealth but 85% of the wealth is in the hands of the 15% rich people. The remaining 15% wealth is in the hands of middle, lower middle and poor people. This ‘economic imbalance’ is being perpetuated by the rich so that they can get richer and the poor become poorer. The concentration of wealth among the rich and the unaccounted money are the real causes for poverty. The ultimate culprits are the selfish business groups in the corporate sector, vision-less politicians, corrupt bureaucrats and fake religious leaders. Surprisingly, all these people network together to safeguard their illegal wealth.

In the Covid-19 pandemic situation, it is sad to note that not a single wealthy temple or any worship centre of any other religion has come forward to share its wealth with the needy people. In spite of the abundance of wealth lying idle in these wealthy temples (also in the worship centres of other religions), the black money of the corporates and the billions of rupees pouring into the newly created “PM Cares unaccounted collection box”, the common people are being treated like beggars.

The wealthy people stranded in foreign countries were brough back by flights ‘free of cost’. Again, the government is planning to send 64 planes and 3 special ships to bring back all the Indians stuck in other countries. During the national and global lock down period, one of the rich businessmen from Kerala committed suicide in Dubai. His dead body and his family members were permitted to come to Kerala by a ‘special flight’. Even the dead body of a rich man gets great respect and honour.

When it comes to the migrant labourers, they were all forced to be at the mercy of the local government for their survival and safe return to their native places. Thousands ventured out on the roads covering hundreds of kilometers by walk. Some died on the way. A group of men decided to go from Gujarat to UP by their bicycles. One of them died on the way. Another group from Tamil Nadu started their cycle trip. They were caught by the police and taken back to where they started. The migrant workers have gone through a ‘life of hell’ during the past 40 to 50 days. Just recently some state governments have taken positive steps to send the migrant labourers to their homes. Yet, still some state governments are quite ‘inactive and non-responsive’ towards migrant labourers. This is the greatest irony in India.

A video went viral in the social media last week. Some people were quarantined in a small building. The main gate was locked. Some volunteers, standing outside the main gate, distributed bananas, biscuit packs and water bottles through gap in the locked grill gate. The visual looked like a zoo – people feeding the caged animals. Why are the poor people treated like animals? 

In one part of Nilgiris, a luggage carrier van had hundreds of small food packets. The local politicians went to distribute these food packets. As soon as some people tasted the food, they realized that it was rotten. All of them threw the food packets back into the van and scolded the politicians. They said, “During election time you come and fall at our feet and now why are you feeding us with this rotten food? Have we elected you to render us this type of inhuman service?”             

Why are the poor people discriminated continuously in various ways? Why are they deprived of their rights? Are their lives so cheap? The Human Rights Commission is quite ‘silent’ about various forms of human rights violations during the lockdown period. Why? Are the common people not eligible to get their share of the “unshared wealth”?  

Why have we not realized that the ‘extra food’ in our kitchen, belongs to the hungry people; the ‘extra clothes’ in our wardrobes, belong to the naked/semi-naked people; the ‘extra money’ in our locker belongs to the poor? The only solution to the continuing poverty and its associated sufferings is a change of heart, a personal transformation.

Together with Rabindranath Tagore let us pray - “This is my prayer to thee, my Lord… give me the strength never to disown the poor… and help me to build a country where the people are not broken up into fragments of narrow domestic walls of disparities and discriminations.”

(Published on 11th May 2020, Volume XXXII, Issue 20)