Stating that the COVID-19 crisis is a once in a century calamity, Punjab Finance Minister Manpreet Singh Badal on Saturday stated that the GST’s Group of Ministers (GoM) should stop acting like a shahenshah of yesteryears and instead let compassion speak through its decisions.Stating that all COVID-related goods must be zero-rated during the pandemic, the Punjab Finance Minister, along with other Finance Ministers representing the Indian National Congress (INC), vehemently opposed the imposition of GST on COVID related items at this time of a national crisis, and recorded their 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.Releasing his remarks and interventions made at the 44th meeting of the GST Council, the Punjab Finance Minister urged the ruling government to include representatives of the Indian National Congress (INC) in the Group of Ministers (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,” Manpreet Singh Badal said.The Punjab Finance Minister also enjoined upon the Chairperson 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.He regretted that the GoM is not acting with compassion, and it is parroting the Union Government, perhaps out of the fear that they may not be included from a future GoM.
He also called upon the look at the entire GST issue holistically so that a due, considerate and humane approach is adopted to help ameliorate the sufferings of the people of India.Manpreet Singh Badal reminded the GoM that health care services, including all recognized systems of medicine (Allopathy, Ayurveda, Unani, Homoeopathy, Yoga), 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 criticised the discussion for restricting GST on government hospitals versus private hospitals stating that both treat the people of India. The idea that we need GST registration and billing and later file returns are farcical. What would a consumer feel seeing GST reflected on an invoice, the Punjab Finance Minister asked?Manpreet Singh Badal vehemently criticised the attempt to garner revenues from furnaces from crematoriums stating that this category should be even above the exemption category. Is this how the Union Government wishes to collect revenues, he asked?It may be recalled that the GoM was deliberating on granting a concession in the tax rate to furnaces from 18% to 12%. Similarly, the RT-PCR machine is already purchased at a concessional rate, and practically all states also regulate the price of a COVID test. Hence, the recommendation to retain a tax rate of 18 percent is senseless, he added.The imposition of GST on Covid preventive materials, starting with GST on vaccines and items like masks, PPEs, hand sanitizers, Medical Grade Oxygen, testing kits, ventilators, Bipap Machine, and pulse oximeters among others reflect an insensitiveness and lack of compassion.He cautioned that the attempt to pick and choose exemptions on the grounds of inverted duty structure or cheaper imports would end up destroying the very foundation of GST. Finally, the Punjab Finance Minister stated that COVI-19 related exemptions should not be over by August 31, 2021. Is Covid going to be over by then, he asked? We need to have a more realistic and reasonable time frame and one which is based on compassion, Manpreet Singh Badal added.