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How The GST Is Making People Pay For Living With Disability

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By: Koshy Mathew

In July this year, India saw the advent of a new tax regime aimed at unifying the sprawling markets as disparate and diverse as the people of the country itself. Citizens responded with mixed emotions of welcome and disapproval.

While Goods and Services Tax (GST) is not new to the global markets, it took the Indian market by surprise. It is also ironic that GST which in concept is simpler to surmount, is more confusing to the Indian market and society than the former multi-layered indirect tax regime. GST subsumes as many as 17 indirect taxes (Central and State) and around 22 types of Cess into one single tax. This is a revolutionary move in the history of Indian taxation.

What Is The Goods And Services Tax (GST)?

For a more comprehensive understanding, GST is a value-added tax. It is a tax on the final consumption and on the final consumer based on a harmonisation principle of unified tax and single market across the country. It will function by being taxed at every stage of the production-distribution chain. It will be refunded at the stages of input purchase, production, wholesale and retail through the mechanism of Input Tax Credit (ITC). The objective is to prevent cascading of taxes, avoid built-in taxes (eg excise duty at the factory gate, duty on equipment used by telecom companies etc.), increased selling prices and increase 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 commoners in India simply because the initial impact on the market has been an increase in the price of goods and services. This is also because taxes have become more visible post-GST as compared to earlier when they were hidden and built into the price itself. What was visible earlier was a VAT imposed by states at the retail level or the service tax imposed by the Centre. Not only the new 5%, 12%, 18% and 28% based on the divided categories of essentials, necessities and luxuries have left the public confused, it has not resulted in an immediate fall in the prices of goods and services. What’s worse, there has been an increase in prices payable by consumers which have left them perturbed.

The general public, people on the margins and the disabled people are all at the receiving end of this new tax regime.

How GST Impacts People With Disability

While the middle and the lower classes are facing a monetary disability, the disabled are facing a double blow. Disability imposed by the able-bodied vision of the world and the economic demands of changing that vision. With 5% GST being imposed on disability equipment, clearly, the message being sent out is not one of inclusion.

Unfortunately, this notion of economic demands and costs associated with disability is rooted in a misconceived perception that the disabled cannot contribute economically and socially. And to nurture such ideas is in conflict with the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), Right to Persons with Disabilities (RPWD) Act 2016 and all other steps taken to spread awareness and bring about change.

To impose GST on wheelchairs and braille papers is literally taxing the disabled person for trying to overcome their disability. This is not justifiable, in fact, nullifies all the provisions, rules and guidelines envisioned within the RPWD Act 2016 which was cleared by the government six months ago.

The government of India is contradicting itself to be passing a progressive legislation in December 2016 and following it up six months later with something that will hinder the former.

Disability activists have been vociferously protesting against the GST roll-out. Following a PIL filed by wheelchair-bound 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 this is to create a win-win situation for the domestic producer and the disabled population. This might be true in concept but is totally void of logic. The domestic producer pays 18% tax on the raw materials for making disability equipment, which is refundable through the ITC mechanism. The ‘concessional rate’ of 5% would bring in some tax revenue to credit the taxes incurred in the production-distribution chain. If these goods are made tax-free to the final consumer, the input taxes led cost would ultimately perish the industry in India especially when facing competition from imported disability equipment which is duty-free. And on the other hand, we have optional goods like bindi, kumkum, bangles, sindoor etc exempted from GST and polished diamonds and gold is taxed at just 3%. That makes no logical sense.

Declaration of demonetization was also similar in nature, it neglected the commoners and the gigantic unorganized sector in India. It has resulted in nothing positive for economic reforms except substantial losses.

I think that GST, in its current form, is only taking money out of the pockets of the poor and fattening those of the rich. Since we are a country where a majority of the population resides in villages, out of which a substantial section is living Below Poverty Line (BPL). The rationale must be to feed this section rather than the micro rich. This makes the Opportunity Cost (Return on the most lucrative option­­ – Return on the chosen option) for the disabled life hindering. Where it stands, GST on disability does the same- extorting the marginalised!

A version of this article was first published here.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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