GST Council to mull COVID relief: Govt.

Finance Ministry tells court it is receptive to citizens’ needs, has already offered significant duty relief

Requests for relief from the Goods and Services Tax (GST) on critical COVID-19 materials will be placed before the GST Council at its May 28 meeting, the Centre told the Delhi High Court, which had asked it to consider exempting the GST levied on oxygen concentrators imported for personal use.

Stating it had an ‘open mind’ on all tax relief requests, the Finance Ministry, in a counter affidavit filed before the Bench of Justices Rajiv Shakdher and Talwant Singh on Tuesday, argued that merely levying a reasonable GST rate on oxygen concentrators cannot be considered a violation of the Right to Life under Article 21 of the Constitution.

“If the argument of the petitioner is accepted, then it will lead to absurd consequences and interpretations, wherein citizens will be seeking exemption from property tax, since housing is an essential facet of Right of Life… or exemption from taxes on several food items since Right to Food has been held by the Supreme Court to be a part of Right of Life under Article 21,” the Ministry submitted to the court.

Judgment reserved

The Court, which reserved its judgment following Tuesday’s proceedings assisted by Amicus Curiae Arvind Datar, had asked the Centre to drop the GST levy temporarily till the pandemic subsides. The petitioner in the case, a senior citizen getting a concentrator as a gift from a nephew abroad, had invoked Article 21 to challenge a May 1 notification that levied 12% GST on such imports from 28% earlier.

‘Parity to deter misuse’

“Significant relief has already been provided on personal imports of oxygen concentrators with reduction of duty incidence from 77% to 12%,” the Ministry said, adding that tax parity between commercial and personal imports would prevent misuse of the latter route.

“It is felt that any person importing concentrator for personal use or has sources for receiving such supplies in gifts would be in better position to afford the nominal 12% GST as compared to others who source it through commercial channels,” the Ministry said, urging the Court to dismiss the petition. Since GST rates and general exemptions are prescribed on the recommendation of the GST Council, all the representations seeking GST relief shall be placed before the Council at its next meeting, the Ministry said.

“The government is receptive to the needs of the citizens… The government has an open mind to all these requests (for tax relief and exemptions) and it would intervene for further concession, as necessary, in the present unprecedented and very dynamic situation to provide relief to the public, particularly those who are not in a position by themselves to afford the COVID relief supply,” the Ministry added.

Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had recently shot down a request from West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee to the Prime Minister seeking GST waivers on COVID-19 related supplies.

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