At the Alandi-based Jagriti School for Blind Girls, the authorities are in a dilemma over the new Goods and Services Tax (GST).With the Centre now introducing GST and chalking out a new rate structure for aids and appliances for the visually challenged and people with physical disabilities, authorities admit this will needlessly increase the cost of education per student annually.
The school authorities have termed levying GST on braille paper and typewriter as insensitive. “We spend Rs 6 per child per day for each Braille paper. With GST, the cost will naturally be escalated,” says Sakina Bedi, spokesperson at the school which is run by the National Federation of the Blind, Maharashtra.
Set up in 1989, the school had the first batch completing Standard X in 1998. Since then, 250 visually challenged students have successfully completed their matriculation. “The school is a residential institution and presently we have 110 visually challenged girls here. Annually, an amount of Rs 15,000 is spent per child. We get limited government funds, but we get donations mainly from Puneites and corporates. With GST now, our expenses will increase,” the visually challenged Bedi said.
According to the United Nations, 10 per cent of any country’s population is physically challenged. Recently, Gokhale-Mukherjee committee report estimated that 7 per cent of the population is physically disabled and by that estimate, Pune has an approximate 2.8 to 3 lakh physically disabled people.
Several among the visually challenged citizens said that introducing GST on Braille typewriters and other appliances was “criminal and unacceptable”. Visually challenged Sundeep Bedi, a 49-year-old equity analyst who is the chief economist at the Intellectual Foundation, said the act of introducing GST on aids and appliances for the disabled negates the cause of social justice. “We had sent our representation to the government to exempt institutions that cared and provided welfare measures for the disabled from GST. This has come as a huge surprise,” Bedi said.
At the Technical Training Institute of Poona Blind Men’s Association, the training manager, visually challenged Shantanu Ladkat, raised concern over the implication of GST while purchasing mobile phones with screen reading software. “With new technology, the visually challenged are now exposed to the study material in the digital format. For us, a smartphone is not a luxury but a necessity as it has assistive technology that helps us read what’s happening in the world. With GST rate of either 5 or 28 per cent, it will be difficult to purchase a smartphone,” he said.