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EXCLUSIVE | New Group of Ministers will discuss zero-rating of COVID items

The proposal of zero-rating covid items was first proposed by by Bharatiya Janata Party’s Rajya Sabha member and former Bihar Deputy Chief Minister Sushil Kumar Modi earlier this week and was backed by experts.

May 28, 2021 / 10:49 PM IST
Representative image

Representative image

A Group of Ministers, which will comprise of Finance Ministers of some states and possibly central government ministers, will deliberate on zero-rating of products which are essential in the fight against Covid-19, a top government official told Moneycontrol.

While zero-rating of items was discussed at the GST Council meeting on May 28, it was not accepted by the Council.

Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said that a group will be formed to discuss reductions which were not decided upon. The council has already exempt from integrated GST items such as medical oxygen, concentrators, certain diagnostic markers test kits and COVID-19 vaccines, etc, if imported on payment basis, for donating to the government or on recommendation of state authority to any relief agency.

"The group of ministers will submit its proposal by 8th June so that any further reductions, if they need to be done, will be done" Sitharaman said, adding that the group will be formed by tomorrow.

"The group will discuss zero-rating of items or whether the any GST rate reductions can be done for items which are domestically produced or comercially imported," the official, who was part of the Council deliberations, told Moneycontrol.

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COVID-19 Vaccine

Frequently Asked Questions

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How does a vaccine work?

A vaccine works by mimicking a natural infection. A vaccine not only induces immune response to protect people from any future COVID-19 infection, but also helps quickly build herd immunity to put an end to the pandemic. Herd immunity occurs when a sufficient percentage of a population becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely. The good news is that SARS-CoV-2 virus has been fairly stable, which increases the viability of a vaccine.

How many types of vaccines are there?

There are broadly four types of vaccine — one, a vaccine based on the whole virus (this could be either inactivated, or an attenuated [weakened] virus vaccine); two, a non-replicating viral vector vaccine that uses a benign virus as vector that carries the antigen of SARS-CoV; three, nucleic-acid vaccines that have genetic material like DNA and RNA of antigens like spike protein given to a person, helping human cells decode genetic material and produce the vaccine; and four, protein subunit vaccine wherein the recombinant proteins of SARS-COV-2 along with an adjuvant (booster) is given as a vaccine.

What does it take to develop a vaccine of this kind?

Vaccine development is a long, complex process. Unlike drugs that are given to people with a diseased, vaccines are given to healthy people and also vulnerable sections such as children, pregnant women and the elderly. So rigorous tests are compulsory. History says that the fastest time it took to develop a vaccine is five years, but it usually takes double or sometimes triple that time.

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The centre, through an earlier statement by Nirmala Sitharaman, has already made its stand clear that exempting domestically produced and commercially imported items from GST will lead to manufacturers unable to avail of input tax credit, which in turn could lead to higher prices for customers.

The proposal of zero-rating covid items was first proposed by by Bharatiya Janata Party’s Rajya Sabha member and former Bihar Deputy Chief Minister Sushil Kumar Modi earlier this week and was backed by experts.

As per the definition by Central Board of Indirect Taxes and Customs, by zero rating it is meant that the entire value chain of the supply is exempt from tax, not only the final product. This bypasses the issue of input tax credit.

At the latest GST Council meeting, a number of State Finance Ministers are learnt to have raised the issue of zero-rating.

"I request that at least for a temporary period, zero rate of GST should be levied on Covid-19 vaccines, Remdesivir and Tocilizumab by State Government and agencies. This will ensure that the cost of these essential items is reduced significantly, without the suppliers having to absorb any reversal of input tax credit," the new Tamil Nadu Finance Minister Palanivel Thiaga Rajan said in his speech to the Council.

 
Arup Roychoudhury
first published: May 28, 2021 10:49 pm

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