The Union government's decision to bring articles necessary for the people with disabilities under GST regime has evoked strong resentment from groups of disabled groups.
A prominent disabled citizens group 'National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People' has written a letter to Amitabh Bachchan - the likely brand ambassador for the promotion of the goods and services tax - seeking roll back or reduction of GST tax on equipment used by disabled individuals.
A copy of the letter is with ScoopWhoop News.
The group in the letter stated that the government's decision might further alleviate the problems for disabled who are usually poor and lack proper facilities. It also stated that the tax rates might deter NGOs and other groups from working enthusiastically on the issues of disabled people.
The letter written by honorary director, NCPEDP Javed Abidi reads:
"Sir, this link between poverty and disability cannot be ignored! It is, therefore, important for the GST council to understand that these items are already beyond the reach of a common person with disability who already has an additional cost to bear in order to live his life independently and with dignity! And, if any additional taxes are levied, it will negatively impact the disabled people in India, including the ageing population with increasing support and medical needs (sic)."
According to Abidi, the new tax regime also violates the provisions of the newly passed Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016. While the relevant items for disabled persons are exempted from VAT, the rights group said it had no knowledge about the mechanism used to fix rates on these equipment under GST.
Speaking to The News Minute, Harika, founder of a Hyderabad based NGO, Aanrghya Foundation pointed out that braille typewriters which are currently being sold at around Rs 32,000 per unit could incur an additional charge of Rs 5000 under the GST regime.
In the letter, Abidi has raised a similar concern and has highlighted how equipment like Braille paper and cars for disabled will cost more with an increased tax rate of 12 percent and 18 percent respectively.
He has therefore, in his concluding lines urged Amitabh Bachchan to take the issue with the highest authorities and join his campaign 'Rollback GST for Persons with Disabilities' (#RollbackGST4PWDs)
You can read the entire letter reproduced below:
At the outset, congratulations on being appointed as the Brand Ambassador for the promotion of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) to be implemented from 1st July in India by the Ministry of Finance!
Sir, apart from your persona, your personal commitment has added gravitas to many a social causes & issues that have made us sit back, listen and most importantly, think! It is with regards to this and your recent appointment as the brand ambassador of GST that we are writing to you today.
As you may be aware, the GST Council has proposed a levy of 5% GST on all items for persons with disabilities mentioned in list 32. Besides this, GST for the following items specifically has been levied as follows:
Braille Typewriters – 18%
Braille Paper – 12%
Braille Watches – 12%
Braillers – 5%
Carriages for disabled people – motorised or not – 5%
Cars for physically disabled persons – 18%
With an estimated 70-100 million disabled population in India, this decision is not only shocking as these items are of absolute necessity for persons with disabilities rather than a choice but, also violates the provisions of the newly passed Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act 2016!
Interestingly, these items have been traditionally exempt from VAT. The basis on which these new tax rates have been fixed is beyond comprehension!
Furthermore, statistically, persons with disabilities are more likely to experience poverty, while poverty itself also increases the incidence of disability. Sir, this link between poverty and disability cannot be ignored! It is therefore, important for the GST Council to understand that these items are already beyond the reach of a common person with disability who already has an additional cost to bear inorder to live his life independently and with dignity! And, if any additional taxes are levied, it will negatively impact the disabled people in India including, the aging population with increasing support and medical needs. Moreover, the additional expense may also, deter educational institutions, potential employers and organisations working with the disabled and thus, taking persons with disabilities back by two decades.
In view of the above, various disability groups had registered strong protests for the withdrawal of the proposed tax on aids, appliances and assistive devices used by persons with disabilities through representations to not just the Finance Minister (FM) at the central government level but also, to the FMs of the States as well!
We were quite hopeful that the GST Council would heed to these petitions and rollback or significantly reduce the proposed GST during their meeting on Sunday,18th June, 2017. However, this didn't happen! The Council deliberated on the tax rate for restaurants in five star hotels but, did not reduce (leave alone abolish) the tax on disability aids & appliances. What is even more absurd is that the Council has decided to levy a 18% tax on restaurants in five star hotels - the same as the tax fixed for Braille typewriters!
Now, the next meeting of the GST Council is scheduled for 30th June. Sir, it is quite clear that our pleas are falling on deaf years! We are therefore, appealing to you in your capacity as the Brand Ambassador to please take up this issue with the highest authorities. We truly believe that your voice will add the much needed weight to our cause!
We look forward to your support on our campaign on 'Rollback GST for Persons with Disabilities' (#RollbackGST4PwDs)!
With best regards,
Javed Abidi, Honorary Director, NCPEDP, 19.6.2017
(Feature image source : Reuters/ Design credits: Anmol Gambhir)