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Have India’s ultra-rich done enough to help in the country’s fight against Covid-19?

  • Published at 12:48 pm May 5th, 2021
Mukesh Ambani
File Photo: Reliance Industries Chairman and Managing Director Mukesh Ambani Reuters


The few who have contributed to the cause have done so through their companies’ corporate social responsibility initiatives, and not their own pockets

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.

On May 2, India registered over 3,92,488 new cases of Covid-19, a 29th consecutive day of more than 1,00,000 daily new cases. In April alone, the country has seen around 50,000 deaths due to the disease.

Yet, most of the ultra-rich 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 their companies’ corporate social responsibility initiatives, 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 is worth noting that the Covid-19 pandemic, which killed thousands of small businesses across India, has only made India’s rich even richer.


Also Read - India posts record daily rise in coronavirus deaths


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 is 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 organizations or frantically mobilizing resources for patients.

Meanwhile, an April 26 report in The Times of India newspaper stated that around eight private jets, costing around $97,397 each, arrived from India to the London airport, 24 hours before the country announced the travel ban on India.

Here is what we know about Covid-19 contributions from India’s billionaires so far:

Ambani and Reliance

On April 30, Ambani’s Reliance Industries said it had become India’s largest producer of medical-grade liquid oxygen from a single location. “Starting from nil” last year, the company now produces 11% of India’s total medical grade liquid oxygen at its refinery-cum-petrochemical facility in Jamnagar in the western state of Gujarat, it said. The company claims that its oxygen, which is being provided free of cost to many states, is meeting the needs of nearly every one in 10 patients in the country.

The same day, Reliance also airlifted 24 ISO containers that are used for transporting oxygen from Saudi Arabia, Germany, Belgium, Netherlands, and Thailand, creating an additional 500 tonnes of transportation capacity for India.

Reliance had recently supplied over 15,000 million tonnes of oxygen free of cost, helping nearly 1,500,000 lakh patients.

“For me and for all of us at Reliance, nothing is more important than saving every life as India battles against a new wave of the Covis-19 pandemic,” Ambani said in a statement. “There is an immediate need to maximize India’s production and transportation capacities for medical grade oxygen.”

His efforts, however, are being criticized mainly because many feel they are too little compared to what he can afford.

One cause of this criticism is the fact that Ambani – who earned $12,170,304 an hour in 2020 – was way behind fellow billionaire Azim Premji in his philanthropic contributions during 2020 when India was struggling with the first wave of Covid-19.


Also Read - Desperate for oxygen, Indian hospitals go to court


Premji, the founder chairman of Wipro and India’s 15th richest person, donated 10 times more than Ambani in 2020, according to the Hurun India and EdelGive India Philanthropy List 2020.

Adani and Tatas

As India struggled to transport oxygen from factories to hospitals, the Adani Group arranged four ISO tanks with 80 tonnes of liquid oxygen from Saudi Arabia on April 26. Adani has also said that his companies are procuring 5,000 medical-grade oxygen cylinders from Linde Saudi Arabia, a provider of industrial and medical gases. Adani Group has also procured oxygen from Thailand and Dubai.

Similarly, India’s salt-to-software conglomerate Tata Group has been helping the country in its struggle with the oxygen shortage. The group’s subsidiary Tata Steel is supplying around 1,000 metric tonnes of oxygen on a daily basis to various states.  

Some other legacy business groups have been donating at the local level. For example, Grasim Industries, a Madhya Pradesh-based unit of Aditya Birla Group, has donated 30 oxygen concentration machines to a city hospital in Ujjain.


Also Read - 24 die in India hospital due to oxygen shortage


Leaving country

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 is not only the ultra-rich,” Rajan Mehra, chief executive officer at New Delhi-based private jet firm Club One Air told Bloomberg. “Whoever can afford to take a private jet is taking one.”

Among those who have found safety for themselves and their families abroad is billionaire Adar Poonawalla, the CEO of Serum Institute of India, which is responsible for supplying a majority of the doses for India’s vaccination program. The “vaccine prince” has gone to London “for an extended period of time”, according to an interview in The Times on May 1. However, he has said he would return to India in a “few days.”

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