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Opposition FMs raise a banner of revolt

Our BureauNew Delhi, June 12 New Delhi | Updated on June 12, 2021

Not given an opportunity to speak, says Amit Mitra; GoM should stop acting like Shahenshah, says Badal

The Opposition parties raised a united voice against the decision of the GST Group of Ministers to reject their demand for zero rate of GST on medicines and goods for Covid treatment. On Saturday, finance ministers of the Congress-ruled States submitted a dissent note to the GST Council on the revised rates on goods being used in Covid 19 relief and management.

West Bengal Finance Minister Amit Mitra said in a protest letter to Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman that the Centre muzzled his voice at the GST Council meeting and he was not allowed to present his views on some of the remarks made by Sitharaman. Kerala Finance Minister KN Balagopal sent a letter to the panel expressing his dissent and it was recorded in the report of the GoM.

Punjab Finance Minister Manpreet Singh Badal said the GST’s Group of Ministers should stop acting like a shahenshah of yesteryears and instead let compassion speak through its decisions. “All Covid-related goods must be zero-rated during the pandemic. The finance ministers of the Congress-ruled States vehemently opposed the imposition of GST on Covid related items at this time of a national crisis, and have recorded our note of dissent. The other alternative is to charge 0.1 percent, which is well within the powers of the GST Council, and this measure should be in place till the pandemic is over,” Badal said.

He urged the Centre to include representatives of the Congress in the GoM. Earlier, Balagopal had also raised a similar demand in the first meeting of the GoM. “It is preposterous that the principal opposition party of India in both the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha has been excluded in the GoM,” Badal said.

Separate Secretariat

The Opposition also asked the Chairperson of the panel and Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman to operationalise the position of Vice-Chairperson of the GST Council. “Further, the GST Council must have its own secretariat, and it should be empowered to adjudicate on a Dispute Resolution Mechanism where there are divergent views,” Badal reiterated.

Balagopal said Kerala’s stand remains that all goods for Covid management should be at the rate of zero or 0.1. “This is our stand. Even for vaccines, it should be zero rate. Now the Centre says since they are purchasing the vaccines for the States, there is no possibility of reducing the GST rates for vaccines. People were compelled to go to private sector as the Government systems are weak. Higher rate on vaccines is against the interests of people,” Balagopal told BusinessLine.

Badal reminded the GoM that healthcare services, including all recognised systems of medicine, are already exempt under GST. “The supply of medicine that is a part of the treatment package is also exempt since the entire transaction is considered a service,” he said.

In his letter to Sitharaman, Mitra said towards the end of the meeting, Sitaraman referred to several of his observations by name and yet he was not given the floor, despite repeated requests. “... Obviously, this and other instances in today’s GST Council Meeting have dealt a major blow to the spirit of cooperative federalism undermining the very ethos of the GST Council,” he said.

Mitra said: “Unfortunately, you decided not to agree with the suggestions of so many Ministers and your final remarks contained some cosmetic modifications of the recommendations of the GoM.”.

Published on June 12, 2021

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