With articles essential for people with disabilities set to be taxed under the new GST regime, organisations representing such people are incensed, and have alleged that the government, which talks about inclusion of persons with disabilities, is in fact depriving them of basics necessities.
The organisations argue that for a person with a hearing impairment, a hearing aid is essential, for someone with a locomotor disability, a wheelchair is indispensable, and for the visually impaired, books in Braille are part of daily life.
Under the GST, taxes ranging from 5-18% on goods used by people with disabilities have been approved. So far, these goods were exempt from any form of excise and customs duty.
As per rates approved by the GST council on May 18, 2017, 18 per cent tax has been imposed on Braille typewriters, 12 per cent on Braille paper, 5 per cent on carriages for the disabled, wheelchairs and assistive devices, and 12 per cent on hearing aids.
This has prompted the All India Confederation of the Blind to write to Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and the Minister for Social Justice and Empowerment Thawar Chand Gehlot, asking them to withdraw the decision of the GST council.
“Braille books for blind children and wheelchairs for the orthopedically handicapped will now become more expensive. The cost of printing Braille books is already higher. For instance, a 45-page book in Braille will be 100 pages as it is bigger in size. The paper is expensive and so is the printing cost,” said professor Anil Aneja, vice-president of the confederation of the blind, an organisation with 26 affiliates across the country.
They have also pointed out that several people with disabilities come from the economically weaker sections, and the government decision would be an impediment in their education and employability.
“In the absence of help from the government, it is NGOs that are working for their empowerment. So we have to rely on community resources, which is a constant challenge. The taxes will make the situation worse,” said Aneja.
Around 5 per cent of the population has some sort of disability. Apart from an increase in prices, activist worry that it will force people to use poor quality devices.
“Wheelchairs and other devices produced in the country are of poor quality. So most of the materials used by the disabled are imported. For wheelchairs made in India, if one part breaks, we have to replace it entirely and that is expensive. This is unfair because most people with disabilities are unemployed,” said Abha Khetarpal Maurya of the NGO, Cross the Hurdles, who has also received an award from the Women and Child Development Ministry.