Para-badminton world champion Manasi Joshi’s demand for waiver of Goods and Services Tax (GST) on her prostheses has restarted the dialogue on the 5 per cent or more tax that disability aids and devices continue to attract.
“The prosthesis that I use is made for walking and that I use for sport…It’s like we have to pay tax for walking. Why should anybody pay taxes for procuring equipment that is important for my day-to-day activities? That’s why I’ve requested the government to waive off GST and subsidise this,” Joshi told PTI recently.
When the GST regime came into effect in July 2017, the tax on disability aids and devices were decided at a whopping 18 per cent. A public outcry forced the government to scale it down to 5 per cent but not drop it entirely.
Like Joshi, the disabled community terms the tax on their aids — like wheelchairs, specially equipped motor-vehicles for wheelchair users, tricycles for disabled, hearing aids braille-paper, braille typewriters and braille watches — as a levy on their everyday life and living,
“GST is ridiculous and sad. We need a zero-rated GST where the entire supply chain of disability aids isn’t taxed. Such a tax is equivalent to a tax on walking, seeing or hearing. Gandhi, in pre-Independence India, fought for a tax on salt. Shocking that the disabled today are taxed on survival and living,” said Nipun Malhotra, the CEO of Nipman Foundation that works in the area of health and advocacy for Persons with Disabilities.
Read | Taxing Body Parts
Malhotra’s petition demanding GST exemption for mobility aids and also for manufacturers of such aids is pending in the Supreme Court. The petition states that GST on these aids is violative of the Fundamental Rights of the disabled, especially their Right to Life and Dignity (Article 21).
Malhotra, who uses wheelchair, is also the founder of an organisation called wheelsforlife that provides wheelchairs to the underprivileged.
Dr Satendra Singh , who teaches at University College of Medical Sciences, Delhi compares GST to taxing his body parts. “Nobody ever taxed my body parts. If I am, what I am, it is because of my assistive devices. They are my body parts. Who puts taxes on body parts? There is no tax on kajal, Tirupati ladoo, uncut diamond but there is a 5 per cent tax on my caliper,” he said.
— Satendra Singh, MD (@drsitu) September 11, 2019
Arman Ali, Executive Director of National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People, says GST on disability aids and devices is in conflict with the Rights of People with Disabilities (PWD) Act 2016, which says that the state should give such aids free of cost to PWDs below a certain income group as well as to students with disabilities up to the age of 18. The Act further states, Ali adds, that to promote adequate standards of living for people to live independently or in the community, the state shall make schemes which shall make provisions for aids and appliances.
“Ironically, we are charging 5 per cent GST. Poverty and disability form a vicious circle. If the government cannot with the necessary infrastructure, it should not make living expensive for the disabled,” Ali said.
According to the 2011 Census, approximately 2.7 crore people (2.2%) in India are disabled. According to disability experts, these numbers are grossly understated, besides being a decade old.