Ahead of the GST rollout, the differently abled would have been expecting a drop in prices of helping aids. With
braille typewriters, Braille paper, carriages, wheelchairs, crutches, hearing aids etc. being taxed at 5 per cent, the move attracted strong criticism from the Opposition.
Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi on Friday called on the ‘insensitive’ Centre to rollback the ‘disability tax’ under the Goods and Services Tax (GST) regime, stressing that it would put the differently abled under further hardship.
“Congress Party demands a full roll back of this ‘disability tax’ that will put millions of our disabled people through further hardship,” Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi said in a tweet.
The new rates approved by the GST Council and rolled out from July 1, impose a 5 per cent taxe on Braille typewriters, Braille paper, carriages, wheelchairs, crutches, hearing aids, external catheters, jelly cushions, stair lift, urine collection bags, joint replacement instruments and implants, spinal instruments and implants, bone cement, specially-adapted clocks and watches, callipers, micrometers, comparators, gauges, rulers, yardsticks, orthopaedic appliances etc.
A couple of years ago, the Centre had removed customs and excise duties levied on these aids. The new tax regime subsumes a host of indirect taxes excluding direct taxes, custom duty among others. In a way, the imposition of the 5 per cent tax cancels out the withdrawal of the duties levied before on the products.
The government, in its response, rebuked Gandhi. The government said that the assistive devices will be charged at a “concessional” rate of 5%. These products will include Braille writers, Braille paper, wheelchairs, talking books, assistive listening devices, implants for hearing disabilities etc.
The raw materials acquired for the manufacture of these devices will be charged a GST at 18%. On account of the final rate charged to the customer being lower, the manufacturer will be able to claim refund.
Explaining the reasoning behind not waiving the tax, the government said it is protecting domestic manufacturers. It said that if the devices would be kept out of the GST ambit, imports will still be devoid of custom levies. As a result, the domestic manufacturer will pay input costs and hence the cost of the indigenous products will increase. This would, it said, result in the domestic products becoming uncompetitive to foreign imports.
“In fact, the 5 per cent concessional GST rate on such devices and equipment will result in a win-win situation for both the users of such devices, the disabled persons, as well as the domestic manufacturers of such goods. It is for this reason that the Council has kept these items in 5 per cent rate slab,” the Centre said in a statement.