The government has exempted import of ventilators, face masks, surgical masks, PPE, COVID-19 test kits and inputs for manufacturing these items from levy of basic customs duty and health cess. The exemption from import duty would be applicable till September 30, the Finance Ministry said in a statement.
“In the context of COVID-19 situation, considering the immediate requirement of ventilators and other items, the Central Government has granted exemption from Basic Customs Duty and Health cess, on the import of the following goods, with immediate effect: ventilators, face masks, surgical masks, personal protection equipment (PPE), COVID-19 test kits, inputs for manufacture of the above items. This basic customs duty exemption shall be available upto 30th September, 2020,” the statement said.
However, certain sections of the country’s medical devices industry feel the move may not be as beneficial as the government hopes it to be. “If the companies intending to import products like ventilators are headquartered in a country which needs these products more because they have a higher number of serious cases and deaths, how much India will be able to import will remain a question mark,” said an industry executive, requesting anonymity.
“In the US already, there is a huge demand for products like ventilators. Manufacturing is also shut in Ireland, and Germany doesn’t seem far off. Would these companies be able to make enough to send to India as well?” the person said.
“The duty reduction on components might help, though,” the executive added.
Some companies involved in boosting manufacturing of these products in India feel the move will not have a great impact.
“How does this import duty juggling make a difference if the government is the one buying the ventilators? The government levies the duties and gets the same back, whether it is zero percent or 15 percent. For PPEs and other items, it may help the public. India is publicly admitting that our ‘Make in India’ that was hyped so much for many years hasn’t yielded any result and we have to import critical goods, be it during normal days or during a crisis,” said Vishwaprasad Alva, Managing Director, Skanray. The company is currently engaged in an exercise to manufacture nearly a lakh ventilators in collaboration with various automakers and public sector undertakings.
“AiMeD strongly protests this. This is a repeat mistake that has led to India already becoming so import dependent on medical devices. The weakness of the Indian medical system is well known to all…Had the Indian medical device industry been more stronger and robust and well protected, the manufacturers of masks and PPE kits would have been more modernised, more automated and better placed to ramp up capacities,” said Rajiv Nath, Forum Coordinator, Association of Indian Medical Devices Industry (AiMeD).
At present, the basic customs duty on some of the medical devices such as ventilators is 7.5 per cent. Meanwhile, a government empowered group has been trying to help domestic manufacturers of PPEs and masks to boost their production. The companies are attempting to boost their capacity from 1.10 lakh to 1.35 lakh units per day, said a senior government official close to the development.
“The requirement is more, so the government has also been arranging for imports. It is coming from different countries, wherever there is availability,” the official said.
India has long been dependent on imports for most of its medical devices. For instance, the average demand for ventilators in India is around 8,000 pieces a year. Of this, only 10 per cent is manufactured and supplied in the country.
With the number of COVID-19 cases rising, the country might need anywhere between 1.10 lakh-2.20 lakh ventilators by May 15, in the worst case scenario, according to an analysis by think tank Brookings India.
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