West Bengal Finance Minister sends dissent note
Terming the GST Council’s move to retain tax levies on COVID relief materials as a ‘totally anti-people decision’ that was ‘thrust’ upon members, West Bengal Finance Minister Amit Mitra accused the Union Finance Ministry of muzzling his voice in the Council, in a strongly worded dissent note.
Mr. Mitra said he repeatedly tried to voice objections after Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced the Council’s decision as its chairperson, but “the Secretary brought the meeting to a close and the virtual link was cut off”.
“Whither GST Council!” Mr. Mitra remarked in a missive addressed to Ms. Sitharaman, marked to all State Finance Ministers.
The West Bengal Finance Minister said that he, along with several Ministers, proposed zero-rating or imposing a 0.1% GST on COVID related materials for a limited period, keeping the likely third wave of infections in mind. Even former Bihar Finance Minister Sushil Kumar Modi, now a BJP MP in the Rajya Sabha, has recommended a 0.1% GST as a solution “cutting across party lines”, Mr. Mitra said.
“Unfortunately, you decided not to agree with the suggestions of so many Ministers,” the West Bengal Minister told the Union Finance Minister. “”The GST Council was to consider providing significant relief to the sufferings of the common people and the struggling health infrastructure… The consumers of the COVID materials in this hour of need would be greatly benefited with only a 0.1% GST,” he wrote.
“As representatives of the people, we have no way to justify these decisions of draconian nature. Therefore, you have left me no option but to record my dissent against these anti-people decisions which will hurt millions of people who are struggling to breathe and survive this pandemic,” he emphasised.
Stressing that he is writing to her ‘with great anguish’, Mr. Mitra said that Ms. Sitharaman referred to several of his observations towards the end of the Council’s meeting, but he was not allowed to respond.
“Instead, you gave the floor to the Minister from Uttar Pradesh (U.P.), who sought deletion of some of my comments by name and shockingly, you agreed. I could never imagine that this would come to pass in a GST Council meeting where my voice is muzzled, despite the restraint and decorum I have maintained in 44 meetings of the Council — truly unprecedented,” he pointed out.
“Obviously, this and other instances in today’s GST Council meeting have dealt a major blow to the spirit of cooperative federalism undermining the very ethos of the GST Council,” he noted.
Reminding Ms. Sitharaman that the meeting was being held in the backdrop of the death of 3.76 lakh people due to the pandemic in the country, of whom two lakh have died between January 16 and May 1, 2021, he said the Council’s ‘forced decision’ would mean that GST is imposed on several items used today for fighting COVID-19.
Last month, when West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had urged the Prime Minister to drop GST levies on COVID supplies, Ms Sitharaman had responded with a series of tweets against the idea and termed it “counter-productive”.
Several Opposition States had demanded zero or a minimal GST on such materials. Finance Minister of BJP-administered U.P., Suresh Kumar Khanna, said earlier this week that the State is in favour of reducing taxes to reduce costs for patients.
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