GST on wheelchairs not in the right spirit, akin to taxing the disabled patients

New tax on the wheelchair among other things amounts to a tax on mobility or a tax on walking and throws a huge setback for patients dependent on wheelchairs, Sugandh Ahluwalia

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Ms. Sugandh madam (1)About the Author: Sugandh Ahluwalia currently serves Indian Spinal Injuries Centre (ISIC), New Delhi as the Chief Strategy Officer. Formerly Deputy Director Strategy at ISIC, Sugandh holds a Bachelors degree in Hotel and Restaurant Management from Oxford Brookes University, England and a Masters degree in Health and Social Care Management.


The announcement of Good and Services Tax (GST) on commodities and devices that people with physical disabilities are dependent on came as a rude shock to doctors, healthcare professionals and patients who have a high dependency on the device for basic mobility itself. The GST on Braille typewriters and papers, carriages for the disabled and wheelchairs and other assistive devices have been fixed at rates varying between 5 to 18 percent.

It is demotivating to see the government charge GST on these necessary mobility devices because these were originally exempt from customs and other supporting duties. This move indicates to patients, the insensitivity, ignorance and a lack of understanding of the needs of Persons with Disabilities (PWD) by the current government. In the current situation worldwide, the disability movement is considered a social problem rather than a medical problem.

The mindset in India is that disability is considered impairment. This is a wrong perception and causes barriers in society that impacts the physically disabled people.

In other countries like Australia and Canada, healthcare and mobility aids were exempted while introducing the GST. India would have created a milestone by replicating this but has missed an opportunity to put India on the global map for yet another humanistic approach towards its citizens. Incidentally, in the 2016 budget finance minister Arun Jaitley had exempted imported Braille paper from any kind of taxation.

The mindset in India is that disability is considered impairment. This is a wrong perception and causes barriers in society that impacts the physically disabled people. It also prevents people from exercising their rights or enjoying them. In a step to help the persons with disability (PWD) to overcome their limitations, to encourage their mental strengths and intelligence in multiple ways, the government has taken initiatives to help them be treated as normal people in society. India has a new disability law and has launched the Accessible India Campaign that focuses on accessibility.  The initiatives also stresses on employment and community life.

But this new tax on the wheelchair among other things amounts to a tax on mobility or a tax on walking and throws a huge setback for patients dependent on wheelchairs. Mobility aids should not be unaffordable. This will deter people from getting access due to un-affordability and increase the number of bed ridden people. This will indirectly increase the problem in psychological cases and pose another kind of problem on the health burden of the nation.

We, at ISIC, will appeal to the Minister for Health and Urban Development to consider waiving this tax away to help patients not only in continuing to get access to their mobility aids but also deterring them from graduating from physical disabilities to mental and psychological problems as well.

In the past, we have worked very closely with the government and policymakers of the Disability Act. In fact, the deliberations and working of the act were carried out at ISIC with a close participation by our Chairman and staff.

The 5 percent tax is not just for wheelchairs but, assistive devices as well. We are working with lobbyists who have put up pleas for a revision. As of now nothing but a demonstration march on Rajpathis planned. We are also planning on addressing this issue on September 5th, 2017, which is celebrated as Spinal Cord Injury Day. We are hoping our hard work in the sector of disability and healthcare will put us in a position of influence the next time such policies and taxes are levied on Persons with Disability.

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