Amid criticism over not changing GST rates for COVID-19 equipment, medicines and vaccines, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman has the choicest of replies. "Is the GST Council heartless?" she asked. On Friday, after the GST Council meeting, the minister announced the decisions, leaving out any changes in tax rates of vaccines and medical supplies.
"What we have today under GST is what we imported from the pre-GST era. When we see the pandemic, we all think we need to give with a large heart. On Friday, one of the comments was (on being) heartless. Is the GST Council heartless? I am part of it today, somebody else was there earlier. Lifesaving drugs were required even before COVID, were they heartless then?," she said in an interview to Times of India.
Currently, 5 per cent GST is levied on domestically manufactured vaccines, while it is 12 per cent for Covid drugs and oxygen concentrators. While she did not revise these rates, GST was removed for Amphotericin B. She announced on Friday that Amphotericin B that is required to treat black fungus, that has been detected on many COVID patients, will be exempted from GST.
Speaking on GST rates on life-saving medicines and equipment that are only required during emergencies, Sitharaman said that the WHO protocol was also evolving. She reasoned that there might be A, B and C drugs today but tomorrow, B might be removed and D added. In that case, she will have to exempt D now and remove B from exemption list. "The Council will have to take a call on how you offer concessions while keeping the dynamic nature of the situation in mind," said the minister.
Last week, while briefing reporters after the 43rd meeting of the GST Council, the Finance Minister said that it is easy to rush and say that doing this or that would benefit the common man but when the technical, fitment and law committees go into the details, one realises that that some decisions can have collateral impact.
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