West Bengal Finance Minister Dr Amit Mitra today accused the Centre of thrusting on states the move to tax essential items related to the Covid pandemic such as masks, sanitisers, and vaccines. He said voices like his were “ignored” during a GST Council meeting and that his virtual link was even cut off. Union Minister Anurag Thakur later denied the allegations.
GoI led the anti-people move & IMPOSED GST on VACCINE, MASK,hand sanitizer, OXYGEN, PPE, oxymeter, Covid test kit, Remdesivir, RT PCR machine..Since my voice IGNORED, I have recorded my DISSENT by letter. Unprecedented. Slow death of the only body of cooperative federalism.
— Dr Amit Mitra (@DrAmitMitra) June 12, 2021
In a letter he wrote in “great anguish” to Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, Chairperson of the Goods And Services Tax (GST) Council, Dr Mitra said his voice was “muzzled” which he said was “truly unprecedented”.
The Council met today to discuss, among other things, tax relief on items of need in the prevention and treatment of COVID-19.
While it was decided to cut GST on some medicines and hospital equipment, Covid vaccines continue to attract 5 per cent tax. Similarly, there was no change in rates of items like RT-PCR machines and raw material for Covid testing kits. Masks, PPEs, and hand sanitisers, too, will be taxed.
“This is totally an anti-people decision that is being thrust on us at the GST Council. As representatives of the people, we have no way to justify these decisions of draconian nature,” Dr Mitra write in his letter to Ms Sitharaman, recording his dissent.
He reminded her that up to 3,70,000 people had died in the country due to the pandemic till May 1.
The West Bengal Finance Minister wrote that he had proposed two alternatives during the meeting: Zero tax on Covid-related items and 0.1 per cent GST on them.
He said his proposals were similar to those made by many other state finance ministers besides Sushil Kumar Modi of the BJP, who handled the portfolio in Bihar till recently.
“I tried my best to repeatedly raise my objection…but unfortunately, I was never given the floor and my voice was muzzled, as the Secretary brought the meeting to a close and the virtual link was cut off. Whither GST Council!” he wrote.
Citing Dr Mitra’s letter, Union Minister of State for Finance Anurag Thakur later sought to “set the record straight”.
“In my over two years of attending the GST Council, I have never seen Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman ji cut off anyone during the Council discussions. She has patiently given each & every speaker as much time as they needed, even if it meant discussions went on for long hours,” he said in a series of tweets.
“During discussions today (June 12), it seemed as if the Finance Minister from West Bengal did not have a stable VC connection. The Revenue Secretary repeatedly informed him his line was breaking, and that he was not properly audible and to turn off his video for better connectivity,” he said.
At the end of the discussion, when FM @nsitharaman ji asked the Council whether anyone would like to speak & add their comments, Dr Mitra ji again remained silent and did not speak up.
— Anurag Thakur (@ianuragthakur) June 12, 2021
Mr Thakur said it was unbecoming of Dr Mitra to make such allegations, and asserted that the GST Council shall continue to “embody the collective spirit of all states towards debate in a healthy manner”.