Centre scraps duties on oxygen to ramp up import amid Covid-19 surge
The Union government on Saturday scrapped basic customs duty and health cess on oxygen and oxygen-related equipment until further orders to ramp up supply, as hospitals continued to battle fatal shortage amid a devastating surge in Covid-19 infections in the country.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi chaired a high-level meet on ramping up oxygen supply in which the decisions on waiving off the duties were taken. Covid-19 vaccines too would be exempt from basic customs duty, it was decided.
“The Prime Minister chaired a meeting to review steps taken to boost oxygen availability in the country. The PM emphasized that there was an immediate need to augment the supply of medical-grade oxygen as well as equipment required for patient care both at home and in hospitals,” an official statement read.
The statement said the government had decided to grant full exemption from basic customs duty and health cess on import of oxygen and related gear for three months.
The scrapping on related import duties will ease imports and make imported oxygen and related medical equipment cheaper, measures likely to boost availability.
The PM stressed all ministries and departments need to work in synergy to increase availability of oxygen and medical supplies, according to the statement.
Basic customs duty on Remdesivir, a drug recommended for use to treat Covid-19 in certain in-hospital cases, and Remdesivir’s active pharmaceutical ingredients has already been waived off.
In the meeting chaired by PM, there were discussions on speeding up import of equipment related to providing oxygen, which could result in more easing of import regulations related to medical use of oxygen.
Shortage of medical oxygen has paralysed Covid-19 treatment in major hospitals in Delhi and other cities for the third day on Saturday. Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal on Friday had said the capital’s requirement of oxygen stood at 700 MT, while only about 400 MT was available, while the capital’s quota was enhanced to 480 MT.
In order to augment production and availability and meet rising demand, the PM-chaired meet decided to grant full exemption from basic customs duty and health cess on import of a range of medical equipment and gear, including medical-grade oxygen, oxygen concentrators along with flow meters, regulators, connectors and tubing vacuum pressure swing absorption units.
Any other device from which oxygen can be generated will also enjoy these waivers.
The PM has directed the revenue department to ensure seamless and quick custom clearance of such equipment.
The department of revenue has named Gaurav Masaldan, joint secretary, customs, as the nodal officer for issues related to customs clearance for the oxygen and oxygen-related gear, the official statement added.
The country has recorded more than 25 lakh active coronavirus cases and has so far reported more than 1,89,000 coronavirus-related deaths. The ongoing surge in infections has greatly increased demand for medical oxygen.
The official statement said a host of administrative and other measures had been taken to boost oxygen availability, as medical doctors sounded alarm over dwindling stocks to treat critical patients.
“IAF planes are bringing in cryogenic oxygen tanks from Singapore. IAF is also transporting oxygen tanks in the country to reduce travel times. Similarly, in a major decision yesterday, free food grains will be given to 80 crore Indians for the month of May and June 2021,” the statement said.
Those who participated in the meet chaired by the PM, included the finance minister, commerce and industry minister, the health minister, principal secretary to the PM, Member NITI Aayog, Dr Randeep Guleria of AIIMS and the Secretaries of the department of revenue and health along a host of other officials.
Commerce minister Piyush Goyal tweeted that customs clearances for Covid-19 related imports will be fast-tracked. “In another step towards fighting Covi-19, Customs will expedite clearances for import consignments relating to the pandemic to ensure critical equipment and medicine can reach on time,” the tweet said.