West Bengal finance minister Amit Mitra also raised other issues. (Mint Print)
West Bengal finance minister Amit Mitra also raised other issues. (Mint Print)

‘Apprehensive about constitution of panel’: Amit Mitra

  • In a letter to Union finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman, Mitra asked her to record his “dissent” on various issues, including the constitution of the ministerial group.
By Rajeev Jayaswal, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
UPDATED ON JUN 05, 2021 04:46 AM IST

Even as a group of ministers (GoM) is weighing the proposal of Goods and Services Tax (GST)-waiver on Covid-19 essentials such as vaccines, drugs, testing kits and ventilators, West Bengal finance minister Amit Mitra on Friday expressed his apprehensions about the very constitution of the eight-member panel.

In a letter to Union finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman, Mitra asked her to record his “dissent” on various issues, including the constitution of the ministerial group: “I was surprised that the GoM of eight ministers did not include some of those who had cogently argued against the proposals of putting GST on Covid related materials. Now I can only hope that the GoM will demonstrate rationality and boldness at the face of a massive pandemic.”

Sitharaman, who is also the chairperson of the apex federal body on the indirect tax, on May 29 announced an eight-member GoM under the convenorship of Meghalaya chief minister Conrad K Sangma. Other members of the group are—Gujarat deputy chief minister Nitinbhai Patel, Maharashtra deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar, Goa transport minister Mauvin Godinho, Kerala finance minister KN Balagopal, Odisha finance minister Niranjan Pujari, Telangana finance minister T Harish Rao and UP finance minister Suresh Kr Khanna. The GoM is expected to submit its recommendations to the council on or before June 8. Union finance ministry did not respond to an email query on this matter.

The council, at its 43rd meeting on May 28, decided to form a GoM to recommend duty exemptions on Covid essentials after some members opposed the proposed GST rates in the agenda. “An 18% GST on hand sanitizers was truly shocking, when all Governments are asking the common people to use hand sanitizers as the first line of defence against the dreaded virus... Similarly, GST was proposed on masks and PPEs used by crores of common people and lakhs of health professionals, respectively. Similar was the case of imposing GST on vaccines!,” Mitra said in the letter to Sitharaman on June 4. HT reviewed the letter.

In the letter, Mitra raised five crucial other issues amidst raging second wave of pandemic and the impending third wave—raising borrowing limit of states from 4% to 5% of their gross state domestic product (GSDP), compensate states for their past revenue losses to the tune of 63,000 crore, revising compensation of 2021-22 to 2.13 lakh crore from 1.58 lakh crore, extend the compensation period for another five year beyond July 2022, and discuss the issue of bureaucrats overstepping the council’s decision-making, which was raised by the Punjab government.

In a letter to Sitharaman on June 1, Punjab finance minister Manpreet Singh Badal said that committees of bureaucrats “could by no means act as an equivalent or substitute of the GSTC” [GST Council].

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