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India’s BJP-led government says its final budget before a general election in 2024 will spur economic growth, but opposition politicians are among critics who say it fails to address ever-deepening income and wealth inequality highlighted by anti-poverty groups.
The $550bn budget introduced by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on February 1 includes income tax cuts for the middle class and infrastructure spending aimed at creating jobs. But it does not include the re-introduction of a wealth tax on the rich that campaigners say would dramatically improve the lives of poor people in the world’s fifth-largest economy.
Sitharaman says “the budget makes the need once again to ramp up the virtuous cycle of investment and job creation”, but a senior leader from the opposition Congress Party said it fails to address “concerns about life, livelihood and the growing inequality between the rich and the poor”. More than 80% of people questioned in a 2022 survey by Fight Inequality said they approved on higher taxes on the rich and corporations.
Oxfam India recently called for action to shrink the huge gap between India’s richest and poorest people, as it points to a major rise in the number of Indian billionaires between 2020 and 2022. Its report “Survival of the Richest” says that 60 percent of the country’s wealth is held by the richest five percent of citizens, while only three percent is owned by the least-wealthy half of the population. Among its recommendations are immediate wealth taxes and windfall taxes on billionaires, as well as easing the tax burden on poor and marginalised people.
In this episode of The Stream, we’ll look at India’s deepening wealth divide and ask what it will take to build a more economically inclusive society.