Non-BJP state FMs object to GST Council meeting decisions

West Bengal’s finance minister Amit Mitra wrote to Nirmala Sitharaman after the GST Council meeting Saturday, expressing his strong dissent on the decisions to levy GST on vaccines and other Covid related relief materials at 5%.

The decision, he said, was forced upon the states despite state finance ministers including himself asking for zero-rating or imposing a 0.1% GST on all materials used for treatment of Covid cases.

“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,” Mitra said in the letter. ET has seen a copy.

Zero-rating would require some changes in the Act which could have been done via ordinance, he said, further noting that former GST Council member and Bihar deputy chief minister Sushil Modi had also proposed a 0.1% GST cutting across party lines.

He added that his objections against the decisions were not recorded and the videoconferencing link to the meeting was cut off after the secretary brought the meeting to an end. He said that he was not given the floor to express his views and instead the minister from UP was given the chance.

“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,” Mitra said.

Union minister of state for finance Anurag Thakur, responded in a series of tweets saying that Sitharaman had never stifled dissent, and that Mitra did not appear to have a stable network connection during the meeting.

“The Finance Minister has never stifled dissent in the GST Council. It is unbecoming of a senior member of the Council to suggest that this has happened,” Thakur said.

“During the GST Council discussions, it seemed as if the Finance Minister from West Bengal did not have a stable videoconferencing connection. Revenue secretary repeatedly informed him his line was breaking, that he was not properly audible and to turn off his video for better connectivity,” he added.

He further said the chairperson had asked twice if any one wished to speak before winding up the meeting, but no one spoke and other states can attest to the same.

“The GST Council embodies the collective spirit of all states towards debate in a healthy manner; it has been and shall continue,” Thakur said.

The Council on Saturday decided to temporarily lower rates on Covid-related items including medicines, oxygen concentrators, testing kits and hand sanitisers to 5% until September 30. It left the rate on vaccines unchanged at 5%.

The levy on oxygen generators, pulse oximeters, ventilators as well as the items cited above has been lowered to 5% from 12% or 18%. Also included in this list are remdesivir and other drugs recommended by the health ministry.

GST on ambulances has been lowered to 12% from 28%, that on electric furnaces used in crematoriums to 5% from 18% and temperature checking equipment to 5% from 12%.

Punjab finance minister Manpreet Badal said in a series of tweets that the decisions taken by the Council should not be limited to September 30.

“Covid-19 GST Should be zero-rated, don’t end Covid-19 exemptions in August 2021,” he said after the meeting.

GST on COVID-19 preventive materials, and masks, PPEs, hand sanitizers, medical grade oxygen, testing kits, ventilators, Bipap machine, and pulse oximeters is insensitive, he said.

He further added, “Preposterous that @INCIndia (Indian National Congress), the principal opposition party of India in both Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha has been excluded in GST GoM,” reiterating his reservations.

He again demanded operationalising the position of vice-chairperson of the GST Council, and the dispute resolution mechanism.

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