Saturday September 25, 2021

Confronting COVID: Indian uber rich missing in action

NEW DELHI: At a time when thousands of Indians are struggling to pay hospital bills, buy medicines, and even afford cremations for their family members who have lost their lives to COVID-19, most of the country’s much-celebrated billionaires are either missing in action or contributing in a way that can be called symbolic, at best, foreign media reported on Monday.

On May 2, India registered over 392,488 new cases of Covid-19, a 29th consecutive day of more than 100,000 daily new cases. In April alone, the country has seen around 50,000 deaths due to the disease.

Yet, most of the ultrarich have so far not stepped up to help out the needy—not publicly, at least. The few who have contributed to the cause have done so through the corporate social responsibility (CSR) pools of their companies, and not their own pockets. Indian laws mandate large companies to spend 2% of their average net profits for the preceding three years on CSR activities. For context, with over 140 super-rich persons, India is home to the world’s third-highest number of billionaires.


It’s worth noting that the COVID-19 pandemic, which killed thousands of small businesses across India, has only made India’s rich even richer. The country added 40 new billionaires in 2020. The country’s richest man, Mukesh Ambani, became 24% richer last year, while the net worth of the second-wealthiest man, Gautam Adani, went up by 174%. It’s also worth noting that thousands of middle- and lower-middle-class Indians have spent the last several weeks trying to help family, friends, neighbours, and even strangers by contributing to charitable organisations or frantically mobilising resources for patients.

Meanwhile, an April 26 newspaper stated that around eight private jets, costing around INR72 lakh (PKR1.49 million) each, arrived from India to the London airport, 24 hours before the country announced the travel ban on India. As per private jet providers, their services have been high in demand as many rich have been trying to leave the country, which has become a global epicentre of the pandemic. “It’s not only the ultra-rich. Whoever can afford to take a private jet are taking one,” Rajan Mehra, chief executive officer at New Delhi-based private jet firm Club One Air told Bloomberg.