Activists are demanding that equipment used by persons with disabilities be exempted from the GST regime.

GST curtails mobility hampers education Activists protest tax on equipment for disabled
news GST Monday, June 19, 2017 - 19:47
Written by  Pheba Mathew

On Sunday morning, more than 40 persons with disabilities (PWD) came out in their wheelchairs, custom-made two-wheelers, and cars in Chennai protesting against the Centre’s decision to impose GST ranging from 5 to 18% on equipment used by them.

Traveling a distance of 18km, the protest drive was organised by the December 3 movement and the Shree Vari group. “We want the equipment used by persons with disabilities to be exempted from taxes. Even the cars that we use will have a tax of 18%. The Braille books are already close to Rs 500 to 600, if taxes are added to it, it will be a lot more expensive. The government is supposed to protect the rights of the people with disability,” said Deepak Nathan, an activist from December 3 movement.

Disability activist Rajiv Rajan told TNM that he wants the Centre to reconsider this step. “Persons with disabilities traditionally are known to be poor, how can you expect us to pay tax when most of us are below the poverty line. India is not an accessible country, we can't even use public transport that is why we buy adapted cars because that is the only way for many of us to go to the outside world.”

Questioning the logic behind imposing GST, Rajiv noted, “Braille typewriters and braille papers are the eyes for many of us, people who are visually impaired can't read or write without it, crutches and wheelchairs are the legs for many of us. If it is okay to pay taxes for your eyes, legs, hands, etc first do that and then ask to pay taxes for all this. The fundamental right to freedom of expression is being denied by levying GST on Braille paper & Braille typewriter don't levy GST on expression.”

Beyond the protest, the National Platform of the Rights of the Disabled (NPRD) had sent a petition to Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and to the Finance Ministers of many other states urging them to exempt equipment used by people with disabilities. “There were no taxes earlier, the cost of these items is going to increase because of the GST. Most equipment is already out of the reach of the disabled population, because of this more people will be unable to afford it,” said Muralidharan V, general secretary National Platform of the Rights of the Disabled.

Pointing out that puja items including rudrakash have been exempted from GST, Muralidharan says, “On one hand they are giving exemptions to some items but imposing taxes on those that are essential. Without it, mobility is curtailed, and education is hampered. It is not acceptable.”

However, a manufacturer of the wheelchairs told The News Minute that the GST may in fact reduce the cost of equipment, if manufacturers are willing to pass on the benefits they receive to the customer. “It depends on the tax on raw materials, what is going to be GST level and how much input tax credit will help, whether the person is a trader or a manufacturer and whether the person has a turnover less than Rs 70 lakhs or more than that or what is the excise duty saving is going to be. On the whole, for wheelchairs, I personally feel that the excise duty and input tax credit have never been utilized by the manufacturer because currently the tax rate is 0% and they have not able to make use of input tax credit. I feel the prices for wheelchairs will come down but it only depends on the suppliers if they are ready to pass on the savings on this input credit tax,” said Bhargav Sundaram, CEO, Callidai Motor Works.

He added that his company wants to pass on the savings to the customer but all the manufacturers or traders will be able to get a clearer picture only by July or August.

Calling the GST rates for different items irrational, economist Venkatesh Athreya goes on to notes, “Things like visibility equipment or sanitary napkins are being taxed and things like sindoor are not, it is pretty irrational in my view. Moreover, if tomorrow state government wants to change the tax rates, it has to come back to the GST council and it is going to be difficult. It severely affects the space of the state. The heart of the problem is that the government of India is unwilling to raise the taxation for the rich. In the last three years, they have abolished wealth tax, it has provided more concession to the direct taxes and the whole bogus demonetisation, the Centre’s agenda of imposing more and more indirect tax, now it has hit the people hard.”