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Archives for : Disability

India – Disabling the Differently Abled

 Image result for gst and disability
In July , the goods and services tax (GST) was rolled out to a mixed reception. Its objective is to prevent cascading of taxes and avoid built-in taxes -for example, excise duty at the factory gate, duty on equipment used by telecom companies, etc -thereby lowering retail prices and increasing tax revenue by more voluntary compliance. If it proves effective, there is an anticipated increase in GDP by 2%.But the implementation of GST has not gone down well with everyone as the initial impact on the market has been an increase in the prices of goods and services. It is also because taxes have become more visible, as compared to earlier when they were hidden and built into the price itself.

What was visible earlier was a value-added tax (VAT) imposed by states at the retail level, or the service tax imposed by the Centre. The new 5%, 12%, 18% and 28% tax based on categories divided into essentials, necessities and luxuries has also left the public confused.

But if anyone has been particularly hurt by GST, the differently-abled are facing a double blow. With 5% GST being imposed on disability equipment, the message sent out is not one of inclusion. Unfortunately , this notion of economic `demands and costs’ associated with disability is rooted in the misconceived perception that the disabled cannot contribute economically and socially .

To nurture such ideas is in conflict not only with reality but also with the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), the Right to Persons with Disabilities (RPWD) Act 2016, and all other steps taken to spread awareness and bring about change in the way society views the differently abled.

To impose GST on wheelchairs and Braille paper is literally taxing the disabled person for trying to overcome his or her disability , in this case, the inability to walk and read. This is not justifiable and nullifies all the provisions, rules and guidelines envisioned within the RPWD Act 2016 that was cleared by the government in December 2016.

GoI is contradicting itself by passing a progressive legislation and following it up six months later with something that will hinder it. Disability activists have been vociferously protesting against the GST rollout.Following a PIL filed by wheelchairbound Nipun Malhotra, the Supreme Court has issued a notice to the Centre seeking a response on the matter.

The government, in its statement, responding to the public outcry had said that the GST on disability instruments is to create a win-win situation for the domestic producer of such instruments and the disabled population. This might be true in concept, but it is totally void in terms of ground reality . The domestic producer pays 18% tax on the raw materials for making disability equipment, which is refundable through the input tax credit (ITC) mechanism.

The `concessional rate’ of 5% would bring in some tax revenue to credit the taxes incurred in the productiondistribution chain. If these goods are made tax-free to the final consumer, the input taxes-led cost would ultimately deal a fatal blow to the disability instruments manufacturing industry in India, especially when facing competition from imported disability equipment that is duty-free.

We have optional goods like bindi, kumkum, bangles, sindoor, etc, exempted from GST, and polished diamonds and gold taxed at just 3%. The GST burden on the disabled makes no logical sense.

The fact that disability and poverty form a vicious circle, and that any increase in price in disability instruments would make life harder for the differently abled population, is simply ignored. This either reflects the regressive attitude of the government or its obsession for political `optics’.

This makes the `opportunity cost’ -Return on the most lucrative option minus Return on the chosen option -for the disabled life-hindering.

The writer is research officer, Score Foundation

source ET

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Why I’m not celebrating Modi’s birthday (and you shouldn’t too)

A hard look at where world’s largest democracy and its liberal values stand today.


Today is India‘s Prime Minister Narendra Modi‘s 67th birthday. His government is celebrating the day as “Seva Divas”. Celebrities, brand ambassadors, and dignitaries have been roped in to spread the message of “swachh bharat” to contribute for the construction of toilets and the upkeep of public places.

Despite it being a Sunday, UP government has asked children to come to school to celebrate the day. On his birthday, besides the usual photo-op with his mother, Modi decided to dedicate the Sardar Sarovar Dam as his gift to the nation. It is another matter that this gift has brought immense misery to many ordinary citizens living in the Narmada Valley, who are being evacuated without being rehabilitated.

However, the most worrisome part of this celebration is taking place in Modi’s home state Gujarat, where BJP youth wing workers are urging ordinary citizens to pledge that they will not criticise the government “that is formed of the people, by the people and for the people”.

This clearly shows that dissent against Modi government has become dangerous in Indian democracy.

Modi’s centralised style of leadership and his commitment to the ideals of “Hindu Rashtra” have reduced the scope of dissent and deliberation in the country. Indian democracy is using coercive powers to suppress any dissent at the grass-roots level under the pretext of national security.

Narendra Modi has carefully cultivated a “strong man” image by using the rhetoric of democracy and displaying closeness to the masses.

The world is currently experiencing a rise in the number of demagogues. Narendra Modi adds to the global list of so-called strong men: Vladimir Putin of Russia, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Turkey, Viktor Orbán in Hungary, Jarosław Kaczyński in Poland, Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines, Prayut Chan-o-Cha in Thailand and Donald Trump in the US. They are charming, charismatic and cunning and, at the same time, extremely self-absorbed and possess a huge lust for power. They play with people’s fears, create scapegoats and offer easy solutions.

sardar-sarovar-690_091717035809.jpgTo sell himself as a messiah to Indian voters, Modi seized upon the growing despair among the people and their need to centralise powerful political authority to solve their problems. Photo: PTI

India under Narendra Modi, instead of focusing on internal peace and stability and economic development, is busy fostering and highlighting foreign enemies. There is no hesitation to curtail the political freedom and civil liberties of masses and to regularly project minority communities as internal enemies. India is presently witnessing unprecedented control of the media and blatant manipulation of public opinion. Those in the media who do not blindly toe the government line and dare to criticise it pay a heavy price, as seems to have been the case in Gauri Lankesh’s murder.

Modi got a massive electoral mandate in 2014 at a time when ordinary citizens in India were fed up with endless political bickering and wanted an end to the coalition-era corruption under the Congress.

A large number of Indians had begun to believe that the basic fault lay with themselves, their lack of discipline, their selfishness and lack of commitment to the country’s progress and development. To sell himself as a messiah to Indian voters, Modi seized upon the growing despair among the people and their need to centralise powerful political authority to solve their problems.

In a country that has grown weary of its corrupt partisan politicians, the cacophonic media and exploding protest movements, a substantial section of the society still appreciates the “strong man” approach to governance that the Modi regime seems to exemplify. But the consequences of silencing all dissent and criticism have proved too costly for India.

PM Modi’s abrupt whimsical decision on November 8, 2016 to invalidate 86 percent of cash in circulation in the country caused immense hardship and terrible pain to millions of Indians, especially the poorer sections of the society. More than 100 people died while standing for days in front of banks to get their own money. This “strong man” decision has nowhere eradicated the country’s corruption or terror problems, nor has it turned India to a cashless society.

Rather, it has eaten up two percent of the country’s economic growth.

Similarly, at a time India’s railways infrastructure is facing serious crisis and train accidents have become a routine affair, Modi has made a grand political spectacle of starting a short route bullet train project from Ahmedabad to Mumbai. This project is being undertaken with a massive loan of Rs 88,000 crore from Japan.

Indian Railways is almost bankrupt. Moreover, 800 people have died in around 450 accidents between 2013 and 2017 due to poor maintenance of rail lines. Unfortunately for the country, no one in Modi’s Cabinet or party is bold enough to give him an honest and critical view of where the country is headed under his leadership.

At present, with massive majority in the Parliament and the total control of his party, there is almost no constraint on Narendra Modi’s authoritarian style decision-making. No one in his party or government has the power to hold him accountable for his flawed policies. He has appointed friends and cronies to important offices and these handpicked, politically rootless insiders have strong incentives to remain loyal to and uncritical of him.

Like any country, India’s history does not follow a straightforward path. Nowhere is there an easy road towards freedom. In spite of the odds, for seven decades, India has been hanging on to a fiercely democratic structure and liberal values. No doubt the threat of authoritarianism had remained persistent all along, but under Narendra Modi, it is resurging. To appropriate power, he has unabashedly promoted Hindu nationalism over secular democratic values, curtailing individual freedom in the name of state security and used majoritarian emotion to ignore reason.

India under Modi’s regime is sliding further and further down from its path towards democratic consolidation. Modi is gradually eliminating opposing forces in the political system, the judiciary, the media and even the business houses. As this is a gradual process not a spectacular coup – much like the boiling frog – the civil society does not rise up to agitate and the international community does not forcefully oppose it.

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India – After 70 years, how free we actually are?


It’s time to evaluate how much we have achieved in freeing our masses from age-old poverty and social discriminations and are we enjoying the rights to pursue our beliefs and ideas
Dadri Lynching Incident

This year marks the 70th anniversary of our independence. A natural question is bound to arise as to how free we are in terms of enjoying the rights of pursuing our beliefs and ideas. People will also tend to evaluate how much we have achieved in freeing our masses from age old  and social discriminations. Only more than a year ago, on January 17, 2016, Dalit research scholar Rohit Vemula summed up the case in his suicide note, “The value of a man was reduced to his immediate identity and nearest possibility. To a vote. To a number. To a thing. Never was a man treated as a mind. As a glorious thing made up of star dust. In every field, in studies, in streets, in politics, and in dying and living.”

He wrote this just before he killed himself after he decided to disappear from the battle he was fighting against the university administration to restore his status as a student. The pain and agony he was undergoing for being a Dalit became unbearable when he was thrown out of the hostel and his fellowship was stopped after a complaint from Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad. He and four others had been expelled from the hostel rooms for “raising issues under the banner of Ambedkar ’ Association”.

Is it the freedom for which Bhagat Singh and Mahatma Gandhi had made their supreme sacrifices? Had they fought for the  which forces people to die if he or she speaks his or her mind freely? If Vemula killed himself on the campus at Hyderabad, Kanhaiya Kumar, the president of the students’ union at the prestigious Jawaharlal University was arrested on sedition charges. He was released only after a big agitation. Campuses had witnessed such scenes and ideological battles earlier too but had hardly seen any government openly siding with a particular ideology. Since the Modi government took over, campuses began to witness such partialities. Both students and teachers, are being forced to endorse single ideology, a single narrative of nationhood and single lifestyle.

The current regime can be identified by cow-vigilantism and mob-lynching. We must recall how in September 2015, Akhlaq Khan was killed in Dadri, just a few kilometers away from New  on the suspicion of consuming beef. Scores of people have been attacked and killed since then including 16-year-old Junaid of Ballabhgarh in Haryana.
Ironically, in case of Vemula, the government was wasting its time in probing his case to prove that he was not a Dalit. A similar thing was being done in Akhlaq’s case as well. The police was investigating whether he consumed beef. How does it matter whether Vemula was a Dalit or Akhlaq ate beef? Both the investigations were done to justify the deaths.


Caste matters: In Rohit Vemula suicide case, authorities wasted time in probing his caste to prove that he was not a Dalit

On this occasion, we need to discuss the ground we are losing as a vibrant . The story of dismantling democratic institutions, in fact, begins from the dissolution of the Planning Commission. The Commission was constituted by first Prime Minister of  Jawahar Lal Nehru to monitor whether resources of the nation was being used for improving the conditions of the common people. The Commission was taking care of the poor and deprived and making plans from their side. It was protecting the environment from the loot by industries.

Modi’s NITI Aayog which has replaced the Commission has been established to help corporate use resources of the country without any hindrance. In a very short period, the think tank has prepared the base for privatization of all the important public sector enterprises including railways and the Air .

Other big decisions including demonetization and implementation of GST also need scrutiny. The government had promised to eradicate black money, fight corruption and end terror funding. “So, in this fight against corruption, black money, fake notes and terrorism, in this movement for purifying our country, will our people not put up with difficulties for some days?” PM Modi had said in his speech on November 8, 2016 while announcing demonetization of 500 rupee notes and 1000 rupee notes.

The government demonetized 86 percent of currency in circulation. JNU Professor Arun Kumar says that the move was aimed at portraying the PM as Robinhood, who loots the rich to help poor. He says that it has neither helped curb black money, nor contributed to the growth of the economy. He has pointed out long term negative impact on the economy and argued that small scale industries have been hit hard by the move.

Professor Kumar also points out that GST has been a blow to fiscal federalism. He says that it will again harm retailers and small businesses. Both the moves, in fact, have been taken to help big companies expand and monopolize. The tirade against black money has been turned into a political witch-hunt. It is targeting small corruptions of few lakhs and few crores of opposition leaders. The big businessmen who have stashed their black money in foreign banks or have not paid huge bank loans are moving scot-free.

If we go by the government version of growth in economy, a natural question comes to one’s mind as to what has happened to the one crore employment the PM had promised? A recent survey of National Sample Survey Organization (NSSO) reveals that employment is stagnating. The survey has revealed the most worrying trend in the informal sector which has been generating over 90 percent of jobs in the country. The sector is showing stagnation in terms of employment. The NSSO data shows that the sector could only employ 6.5 workers in last five years. The survey was conducted in 2015-16. The data shows the yearly addition of 1. 3 lakh jobs. The PM had promised 10 lakh jobs a year.

The story will be incomplete if we do not include UPA-2 government led by Manmohan Singh. The UPA-1 was marked by people oriented measures like MNREGA. But the UPA-2 was only concentrating on strengthening big MNCs. The policies like GST and allowing free flow of FDI into all the sectors were initiated during the regime. This is the reason why Congress could not lead the opposition to resist demonetization and the GST. The inability of the Congress in forging unity among opposition parties has been seen during presidential elections too. It only allowed JDU leader  to play in the hands of ruling .

On the occasion of 71st Independence Day, it is important to know who can lead the country in preserving  and secularism. Resistance to the government is coming from leaders like Mamata Banerjee Mayawati and Lalu Prasad and the opposition is even not able to stand by their side. The Left is also showing sort of helplessness. We are facing the question on this Independence Day the way we have never faced.

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India’s Nuclear Graveyard- Jadugoda

Haunting images show the devastating

effects of uranium mining in Jadugoda

For years, the local population has suffered from the extensive environmental degradation caused by mining operations, responsible for the high frequency of radiation related sicknesses and developmental disorders found in the area. Increases in miscarriages, impotency, infant mortality, Down’s syndrome, skeletal deformities, thalassemia have been reported. With raw radioactive ‘yellow-cake’ production to increase and more than 100,000 tons of radio-active waste stored at Jadugoda the threat to the local tribal communities is set to continue.

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Weak public institutions best way to ensure social injustice

Devesh Kapur   | Photo Credit:

The political scientist on the danger to India’s checks and balances, and the perils of the democratisation of mediocrity in universities

Professor of political science and a holder of the Madan Lal Sobti Chair, Devesh Kapur has been director of the Center for the Study of Contemporary India at University of Pennsylvania since 2006. Mr. Kapur, who recently co-edited Public Institutions in India: Performance and Design, says our public universities have failed in fostering a spirit of inquiry, curiosity, tolerance and excellence among students. Excerpts:

You have said you could see the making of a perfect storm in India.

In the next few decades, we will see a youth bulge with a skewed sex ratio, one where people, the young people, have ostensible credentials but no real skills or knowledge because of how bad our education system is. So they have expectations and aspirations which are not going to be met. If you were very poor like in the past, life was short and brutish. But not now. And then add to it employment in the face of technological change which in every area requires fewer workers. All of this is coming together with a background of weak, if not weakening, public institutions to manage this. If you see institutions as mediating societal tensions, conflicts, this is what worries me the most about us.

Why do we have a scant regard for public institutions?

In some ways, everywhere public institutions are challenged. Under the Trump regime, White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon wants to dismantle the administrative state. In the end all institutions are some form of checks and balances, but if those in power do not want those checks and balances and they get re-elected repeatedly, then over time there is erosion and — I want to emphasise this — this is across political parties. The Left, the Socialists, the caste-based parties and the regional parties and the national parties, all have to share the blame for this.

If you think of universities, especially public universities, as public institutions, what is amazing is that one cannot think of a single political party that had the least vision of higher education. After all, education is a concurrent subject, right? So, even if the Central government has a particular stance or non-stance, the States could have intervened.

Look at the way our vice chancellors are selected. Many of them would not get a job as a lecturer in a decent college. There are reasons to believe that at least in some cases, they have paid their way there. Between 2000 and 2015, we set up almost six new colleges a day, every single day over 15 years including weekends. At its peak, the U.S., with way greater resources, set up one new college a week. And this, when we have the most regulated higher education system… the UGC (University Grants Commission), AICTE (All India Council for Technical Education), etc.

But hasn’t the creation of universities and colleges opened access to those who didn’t have it in the first place?

I think you can create all these universities and frame the rules. But the underlying ethos of higher education is a spirit of inquiry, a spirit of curiosity, a spirit of tolerance, a spirit that says excellence is important. In that sense higher education should be elitist. It should not be elitist by who enters, but in its intellectual ambitions. To push the frontiers of knowledge, you have to have high standards. The idea that you get grace marks to pass… what does that mean? Even the role of the courts. In fact, you could argue that if you look at the judges and many of the ways they write the judgments, it shows you what ails our education system.

But surely, that is linked to who the government selects?

Here is the tragedy. We have the second or third largest country of people with college degrees in the world. Everywhere, whether public or private institutions, we have a shortage of talent. You know that old poem? Water, water everywhere, not a drop to drink. We have graduates, graduates everywhere, but who do I hire? Yet we are setting up more IITs.

There are a few universities that are doing well…

Very few, they are islands of excellence. But for the bulk of our population, public universities will, and should, continue to be very important. But we seem to be writing them off. Other than the very elite narrow technical institutes like IITs and AIIMS and IIMs, these have reduced what the purpose of education means to a basic functional instrument. Isse aap ko achchi naukri milegi (you will get a good job). They are not about thinking about the larger purpose of higher education. Does it make us better citizens? Does it make us think us broadly about the society we are embedded in, what we take from it and owe it?

It is unclear why you cannot say that if you go to this institution, you must serve in some public function for two years after you graduate. In South Korea, Singapore and other countries, for many decades they had a compulsory draft regardless of your background. If you want to create a sense of genuine nationalism, of service to the nation, that’s where it begins. It doesn’t begin in sloganeering. Why shouldn’t IIT graduates be sent to help out panchayats with technical expertise?

If you look at public loans for higher education, they were about ₹ 300 crore in 2000. Now they are ₹ 72,000 crore, the fastest-growing NPAs (non-performing assets) in the banking system. Basically, these moneys go to private colleges, many are run by politicians, teaching rubbish and in the end, the public sector will pay in any case. There will be a lot of pressure to write off loans. They did serve a good purpose in making education accessible to a large number of students. But it is not clear if democratisation of mediocrity will serve our society well. There has been a massive elite exodus. How many children of our senior politicians, bureaucrats study here?

What ails our public institutions?

One of the extraordinary things is how undermanned they are. It’s not only about shortage of personnel in numbers, we have a shortage in quality. Partly I think this whole thing of everything at the top being reserved for the IAS, IPS has to go.

There has to be much more sifting; after 20 years of service, one-third of them have to leave on the performance scale. The same thing has happened with our universities. Our universities are like the civil service, they are like babudom. Whether I work or not, I am going to basically go with time.

Aren’t you being elitist here?

Whenever someone questions this, you will immediately be attacked as elitist. Ironically, weak public institutions are the best way to ensure social injustice. Who needs strong public institutions? It is the weak, not the strong. The strong will always be able to buy their way, whether it is education, police protection. The irony is in the name of social justice, we have undermined the very social justice we have claimed we were doing this for.

So, what do we do?

The biggest hypocrisy is self-delusion. We always say the West is individualistic. We are one of the most individual societies — the idea of the collective good where the collective is large is absent. We are becoming more ghettoised, not less. I come back to the universities, which is where the young people are on the verge of adulthood. The first time you are meeting people from different parts of the country. Ideas are shaped. That’s the last time you are going to be open-minded. The pretences go away slowly.

Look at the faculty of our public universities. Look at West Bengal. The first two Chairs — and by the way, back then it was private money — at Calcutta University: in physics, it was C.V. Raman, and in philosophy, it was S. Radhakrishnan. Go to the university now… all completely Bengalis. The parochialism that comes with that is frightening. We have gone backwards in a serious way. One of the things we should do in our Central universities is besides reservation, insist that half the students come from outside. We have stopped thinking about the larger role universities play in public life.

How do you see the stifling of dissent on campuses in the name of nationalism? For instance, in the context of what happened in Jawaharlal Nehru University.

The genuine conundrum we face is, if you are in a research programme funded by public money, what should be your role? Should it be activism or research?

Research is not a part-time activity. Din bhar morcha kiya, raat ko do ghanta kaam kiya (Take part in protests through the day, do precious little at night). Good research requires tremendous commitment over a sustained period of time. You cannot get around it. That is the bottom line. An ordinary taxpayer may say, main kyon paise doon (why should I pay)? Or from the point of view of the young person: there are so many injustices, do you want me to keep aloof? I think there is an inherent tension we should recognise.

But I do think… going back to the JP (Jayaprakash Narayan) movement, he had called students to protest. It seemed nice then. But look what it did to public universities in north India. It destroyed them. What became of the movement is that university politics became the springboard for political ambitions.

Why has our cultural debate become about Us versus Them?

Partly there is a very distinct feeling from the Right that we were deliberately excluded. That it is our turn. Unfortunately, they don’t get Gandhi’s adage that an eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind. Vengeance may give you short-term pleasure, but it is not a recipe for building but for pulling down. Then you get into Us versus Them. Both sides are Indians. There is no us, them. This is our country, right? You see this in the U.S. where we see a tribalism on display. We have been sowing very poisonous seeds. We should be trying twice as hard to not be divisive. We should prepare our roofs now. We can’t do when the storm comes. By then we will be reaping what we are sowing now, and we should think very carefully what exactly we will be harvesting.

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GST – India Taxing Body Parts #disability

GST on aids, appliances for disabled points to government’s misplaced priorities

GST, GST issues, Commercial Taxes minister K C Veeramani, Jayalalithaa, Tamil Nadu government on GST, Goods and service tax, indian express newsUnfortunately, items of luxury, whose deprivation causes no challenges to human existence is being prioritised instead of aids and appliances that are essential items for persons with disabilities.  (Source: PTI)

The GST on aids and appliances for persons with disabilities is a reminder of Nangeli’s act of severing her breasts in protest against the Mula Karam or breast tax levied on women from lower castes in Kerala in the early 19th century. This reference is ingrained in the minds of every Malayali for its sheer unjustness — taxing a body part. The same sense of injustice is evident in the decision to tax replacements for non-functional or partly functional body parts.

Crutches, callipers, hearing aids, walking frames — all replacements, albeit artificial, for body parts along with a host of other aids and appliances which the disabled use — would attract a GST of 5 per cent. In comparison, items used to embellish your body, will attract less and in some cases, no GST. So, while kajal, kumkum, bindi, bangles and even human hair are not taxed at all, gold and diamonds will attract a GST of just 3 per cent. Furthermore, to please the devout, puja samagri like rudraksha, prasadam, panchamrut, cotton wicks etc. are also exempt from GST.

Unfortunately, items of luxury, whose deprivation causes no challenge to human existence are being prioritised instead of aids and appliances that are essential items for persons with disabilities for their daily routine, access opportunities of education or employment or enjoyment of other rights or the discharge of duties as a responsible citizen. The fact that without aids and appliances the disabled are deprived of all these and forced into a disempowered state of seclusion has been ignored.

The rationale for imposing a levy on items which are often out of the reach of the common disabled person is beyond comprehension. It is only after the interventions of the finance ministers of Kerala and Tripura, that the GST on these items was brought down to 5 per cent (except for cars) at the GST Council’s June 11 meeting. Earlier, the proposed range was from 5 to 18 per cent.

The finance ministry’s statement on July 4, issued after protests, declaring that the 5 per cent GST rates are “concessional”, is both incorrect and misleading. Pre-GST, barring cars for the “physically handicapped”, aids and appliances used by persons with disabilities did not attract any levy. Let alone a “concession”, this is, in fact, taxing disability or rather a tax on walking, hearing, reading etc. The statement claims that the compelling reason for this is to enable the domestic manufacturer to claim input tax credit for raw materials used in the manufacture of these products and asserts this is a “win-win” situation for all concerned. This requires clarification.

First, items like Braille printer, refreshable Braille display and Braille note-taker, talking watches and clocks, audio labelling devices, DAISY players etc are entirely imported items and did not attract any taxes earlier. There are no domestic manufacturers of these products. Second, raw materials like aluminium extrusions, square tubes and round tubes of aluminium used in the manufacture of artificial limbs and many rehabilitation aids were exempt from the earlier tax regime. Third, it needs to be underlined that input tax credit is, in any case, merely a by-product of the tax channels’ unification, the weeding out of redundancy and the cascading taxes rife in the system that existed earlier. Fourth, what the clarification does not mention is that there is a lower slab of 0.25 per cent for items like unpolished stones.

If the intent of the government is to protect the domestic industry, the spiel must be accompanied by concrete steps to help Indian manufacturers build capacity by way of a technology incubator and extend existing indigenous manufacturers’ scattered production centres into a nation-wide network of distribution, customisation and servicing.

Lastly, the government sought to present July 1 as the most important day after August 15, 1947. But what was the involvement of the people in this exercise? No representative from the disability sector was consulted and their opinion sought on the potential impact that this may have on their lives. This is yet another illustration of where disability figures in the government’s list of priorities.

Taxing Body Parts

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#Aadhaar enrolment a ‘harrowing experience’ for the disabled

The biometric process is often an ordeal for children with disabilities

The countdown has begun for Aryan (name changed) to step into his first job in August, but he is more frustrated than excited. The 21-year-old is required to submit his Aadhaar details to his firm, but does not have the card yet, despite having made two attempts since January. His ‘fault’? He has a physical disability that prevents him from having all his fingerprints captured by the system.

His mother was furious. “My son’s left hand is too rigid and he is not able to present his left thumb impression. The first time we went and got this done was in January, but the tracking system said his application had been rejected. We tried in a different centre in March and the staff there said an exception can be made.

But it was rejected the second time too,” she said.

Their ordeal did not end there.

They first tried calling the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) office in Bengaluru, but were offered no help.

“We then wrote to their online grievance system and even to the Prime Minister’s Office, but we were guided back to the Bengaluru office from where we had already got disappointing responses. No one is able to guide us as to what should be done, and we are running out of time,” she said.

Not an one-off case

Aryan’s may not be an one-off case. UIDAI officials said such enquiries were common. Similar cases have been reported from other parts of the country as well. In fact, owing to problems faced by parents of children with disabilities during the enrolment process, the Spastics Society of Karnataka conducted an Aadhaar camp with the UIDAI a few months ago at the centre.

“We covered around 150 children who did not have Aadhaar card. The whole idea was to provide the service at the doorstep. There are several issues when it comes to the enrolment process. Access to the centres is difficult and there are problems when it comes to the biometric process. Children with autism, for example, need time to adjust to the settings and to cooperate. For those with spasticity, it comes into play during the process,” Priya Rao, Associate Director, Spastics Society of Karnataka, said.

Hinting at the possibility of a similar camp soon, she also emphasised on the need to train personnel deployed to carry out the enrolment process in handling persons with disabilities.

Provisions available

However, officials added that there were provisions to make Aadhaar enrolment easier for persons with disabilities.

“There are two kinds of enrolment: regular and biometric exception. During the process of capturing data, a biometric exception can be made. Instead, a photo with both hands is used in such cases. There is also doorstep service available,” officials added.

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India near the bottom of the global heap on social spending

India Has A Massive Inequality Problem And It Isn’t Doing Enough To Fix It

New Oxfam report ranks India near the bottom of the global heap



India ranks 132nd out of 152 countries on a new index that measures the commitment by a country towards reducing inequality, the advocacy group Oxfam said on Monday. Sweden, Belgium, Denmark, Norway and Germany topped the rankings.

The index, created by Development Finance International and Oxfam, measured government action on social spending, taxes and labour rights because “strong positive progressive actions by governments in these three areas have played a key part in reducing the gap between rich and poor”. The index is composed of 21 data points with varying weights; these include spending on health and education, share of tax revenue in the GDP, share of tax exemptions, minimum wage and maternity benefits.

India ranks 149th out of 152 countries on social spending, 91st on progressive taxation and 86th on labour rights. “Government spending on health, education and social protection is woefully low,” the report says of India. “The tax structure looks reasonably progressive on paper, but in practice much of the progressive tax is not collected. On labour rights and respect for women in the workplace, India also fares poorly, reflecting that the majority of the labour force is employed in the agricultural and informal sectors, which lack union organization.”

“Restrictive labor market policies (example hiring and firing by a firm that employs more than 100 workers) are one of the factors that have prevented the labor intensive manufacturing sector to grow to scale in India, Nisha Agrawal, Oxfam CEO said. “In India, we are not creating many formal sector jobs and most workers in the informal sector have low productivity, low wages and low social security and legal protection,” she said.

The report also finds systematic discrimination against women in India’s labour force. “During the last 10 years, the labor force participation rate of Indian women, already very low compared to other Asian countries, has fallen from 37 to 27 percent. As we prosper, we are becoming more controlling and stopping women from stepping out to earn their own incomes. India is one of the few countries in the world where there is a break in a woman’s career when she gets married unlike in other parts of the world where women withdraw for brief periods during childbirth,” Agrawal said. “In the corporate sector, many listed companies seem to find it hard to hire even one competent woman for their board, a mandatory under the Companies Act…While the bulk of farming work is done by women, they own only about 10-15% of the land that they farm… It is this systematic discrimination against women and girls that is both a cause and a result of the inequality that drives poverty,” she said.

While Nepal ranks 81st and Maldives 91st, other south Asian countries fare worse than India; Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Bangladesh rank 138th, 139th and 141st while Bhutan ranks in the bottom 10 at 143rd. South Africa does better than the United States; 21st to the US’s 23rd. China ranks 87th.

In general, developing countries spend more of their budgets on education than richer ones do, but less on health. They may also have more progressive taxes, but collect them less efficiently. Finally, richer countries do better on labour and gender rights.

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“On GST rate for physically challenged persons” “Wrong on so many levels”

We, the undersigned, represent key stakeholders of the disability community
across India. We express our utter dismay at the spurious claims made by
the GST Council’s media release of July 4, which has asserted that
imposition of 5% GST on aids and appliances used by disabled persons is a
‘win-win’ situation for all concerned.

The statement declares that the 5% GST rates for these items are
‘concessional’. This is both incorrect and misleading. Pre-GST, barring
cars for “physically handicapped”, all the disability aids and appliances
did not attract any levy.

While these items (that are essential for persons with disabilities,
without which their mobility, education, employment and exercise of their
rights and duties is curtailed), attract a GST of 5%, surprisingly, many
items used for puja are completely exempt. Also exempt are items like
kumkum, bindi, bangles etc. Unpolished diamonds attract a GST of a mere
0.25% and polished diamonds and gold only 3%. Diapers used by certain
categories of the disabled and the elderly are also taxed at 12%. This,
lays bare the priorities of the government.

It also needs to be underlined that while the proposed rates for these
essential items were in the range of 5 to 18%, it was subsequent to the
raising of this issue by the Finance Ministers of Kerala and Tripura that
the rates were brought down to 5% at the June 11 meeting of the GST Council.

However, we regret that despite widespread protests across the country and
the prevailing confusion no revision in rates or clarification was made.
The tweet by Rahul Gandhi forced the government to issue a clarification on
July 4.

In its clarification of July 4, the Council, however, has taken the plea
that the compelling reason for imposing the “concessional rate” of 5% is
for the domestic manufacturer to claim input tax credit for raw material
used in the manufacture of these products.

It needs to be clarified that items like Braille printer, refreshable
Braille display and Braille note-taker, talking watches and clocks, audio
labelling devices, DAISY players, talking thermometer, talking weighing
machine, talking scales, etc. are entirely imported items and did not
attract any taxes earlier.

As for taxes on domestically manufactured items, raw materials like aluminium
extrusions, square tubes and round tubes of aluminium used in the
manufacture of artificial limbs; or many rehabilitation aids were exempt
from the tax regime earlier.

Input tax credit is merely a by-product of the tax channels unification and
weeding out of redundancy and the cascading taxes rife in the previous

What the government’s clarification intentionally misses to mention is that
there is a slab of 0.25% for items like unpolished stones.

If the intent of the government is to protect the domestic industry, as it
seeks to claim, the spiel must be accompanied by concrete steps to help the
Indian manufacturers, build capacity by way of a technology incubator and
extend existing indigenous manufacturers’ scattered production centres into
a nation-wide network of assistive device distribution, customisation and

If input tax credit cannot be applied for nil duty goods, we demand these
items be given full input tax credit even if they pay 0 GST. All this
requires is a net transfer from the government to offset the calculated
input tax amount. Ideally, as a sector where the end consumer should not be
additionally burdened, the tax rates of these products must be restored to
the earlier exempt status without forgoing benefits of tax already paid
across the value chain.

NOTE : Linked version and supporting appendices available at



Amba Salelkar, Equals Centre for Promotion of Social Justice

Bhargav Sundaram, Callidai Motors Works (Accessibility Equipment)

Delhi Viklang Adhikar Manch

Differently-Abled Welfare Federation, Kerala

Dipendra Minocha, DAISY Forum of India

Prof T.M.N. Deepak, December 3rd Movement

Gujarat Viklang Adhikar Manch

Haryana Viklang Adhikar Manch

Jharkhand Viklang Morcha

Karnataka Rajya Angavikalara Mattu Palakara Okkota

Dr. Janaki V, Social Scientist & Researcher

Lakshadweep Disabled Association

Meenakshi B, Equals Centre for Promotion of Social Justice

Mohammed Asif Iqbal, Consultant

Muralidharan, National Platform for the Rights of the Disabled (NPRD)

National Association of the Blind, Delhi

Nipun Malhotra, Nipman Foundation

Pavan Muntha, Swaadhikar

Platform for Rights of Disabled, Odisha

K. Raghuraman, Karna Vidya Foundation (KYF)

Rajiv Rajan, Ektha

Saksham, Delhi

Dr. Satendra Singh, Infinite Ability, University College of Medical

Shankar S, Agate Infotek

Smitha S, Disability Legislative Unit (DLU) South, Vidya Sagar

Adv. Subhash Chandra Vashishth, Centre for Accessibility in Built
Environment (CABE, India).

Tamilnadu Assn for the Rights of All Types of Differently-Abled & Caregivers

Tripura Rajya Prathibandi Sammelani

Paschim Banga Rajya Prathibandhi Sammelani, West Bengal

Prof V.S. Sunder, Disability Rights Alliance

Vaishnavi Jayakumar, Disability Rights Alliance

Vikalangula Hakkula Jathiya Vedika, Andhra Pradesh

Vikalangula Hakkula Jathiya Vedika, Telangana

Wheelchair Trust of India

Contact Nos:


V. Muralidharan, NPRD : +919868768543

TMN Deepak, D3M : +919840646953

Vaishnavi Jayakumar, DRA : +919003088388

Dr. Satendra Singh, Infinite Ability : +919971782076

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India – Why Tax Disability? Roll back GST for PwDs

The international meaning of zero-rated goods and supplies has been wantonly throttled. Products meant for disabled citizens need to be part of zero-rated supplies – where GST rate is zero AND input tax credit can be claimed.


What the Ministry of Finance, Government of India is proposing for people living with Disability in India is a rigmarole. Anita Rastogi, Partner, Indirect TaxPwC India explains how and proposes a solution. In less than 4 minutes.

Less than 4 minutes is also the sum total of time Team Arun Jaitley has spent on thinking about tax burden on already overtaxed disabled citizens.

Why Tax Disability? Roll back GST for PwDs!

There are 2 issues here. One is of status and the other of process.

Firstly, the disability sector had exemption in both excise and VAT earlier. This all changed post GST and was taxed up to 18 percent. It was only after 2 state finance ministers wrote to the GST Council that they brought most products down to 5.

Check for the dismaying before and after. We need the exemption status back without any complicated manoeuvres. Given the way politicians keep withdrawing support systems arbitrarily, it makes no sense to change the status just because the law has not been designed with full application of mind.

Secondly, input tax credit is tax paid at every stage from start to end. At the final stage, this accumulated, rightfully paid tax can be deducted from the total tax liability as IT IS ALREADY PAID.

In the earlier system there was a cascading tax effect with tax charged multiple times due to the many chaotic channels. GST’s unified channel does away with this redundancy with a clear chain of what has been paid and by whom. That enables the last link on the chain to deduct previously paid tax before paying final tax due.

This is the case across all products and is a benefit brought about by the system’s efficiency. What sense does it make to force the final tax payer to pay full cost without availing that rightfully prepaid benefit?

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