Why Jaitley & GST Council is wrong to tax aids for differently abled - My Take by Anand Selvaraj
Taxation on disability aids, via GST, will only further keep out the differently-abled population in India because these items are necessary. Most PWD tend to belong to the lower middle class, and even a small increase in cost will place a huge financial load on them.
Take the case of someone who is visually impaired, for instance. A person with normal vision will never be able to understand what it means to be blind. I ask Finance Minister, Arun Jaitley, and the GST Council to list the government offices and public buildings, and public transportation means that are completely accessible to the blind, or those with mobility impairment. Everyone knows that there are very few.
I live in Coimbatore and I am quite sure that no single government office/building is completely accessible to PwD. When enquiries are made, the common response one hears is that funds have been allocated, work is in progress, and buildings will be completely accessible in the coming years.
In all fairness, I think the government should increase the prices of essential aids such as braille paper, braille typewriters, etc. only after significantly improving accessibility. The GST intends to increase the price of cars for the physically handicapped by 18%. Why? In a country where accessible public transportation, both bus and rail, is mostly non-existent, how is a wheelchair user supposed to travel independently anywhere? If additional revenue is the intent, why not increase the tax on alcohol, or on luxury cars that are priced at Rs 20 lakh or more?
I request Mr Jaitley and members of the GST council to sit on a wheelchair costing around Rs.10, 000, and get to the railway station via public transport, or take a train to any big city. I doubt if they have any idea of what it means to be differently-abled in our country. If those in power cannot make the right decisions, how can one expect the general public to promote the required change for an inclusive society?
It's a shame that one even has to debate this and make so many appeals for things that are essential to a marginalized and largely poor population. Until overall accessibility, which means public & private infrastructure, information and opportunities, is significantly improved, an inclusive society will only be a dream.
About the Writer
Anand Selvaraj is 39 years old and has been living with a spinal cord injury for 17 years. He is independently employed and is based in Coimbatore.
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