Centre for Internet & Society

It has been eight years since Mansoor Ahmed changed his caliper. The one he owns was bought for Rs 20,000. Now, they cost more than double. “It is a challenge to buy a caliper when the cost of living has gone up so much. I know really poor people who haven't changed calipers in 15-20 years. After a point, it could cause the disability to worsen,“ says Ahmed, a senior manager with a Bengaluru-based non-profit.

The article by Sandhya Soman was published in the Economic Times on July 7, 2017.

For disabled people like Ahmed, the 5% GST on basic aids and appliances like calipers, Braille writers and cochlear implants is an additional load. “We are already burdened by other costs -illnesses and medicines. It's quite unfair if I must pay more if I have to walk,“ says Ahmed.

The decision to tax aids and appliances for the disabled continues to draw flak despite a hastily put together statement last week reducing GST and capping it at 5% for 22 categories of products. Cars will continue to have 18% GST even if they are retrofitted for a disabled driver. The disabled find it hard to reconcile that they will have to shell out more while items such as sindoor and bangles got a waiver. This is the government that launched the Ac cessible India campaign and Inclusive India campaign. I don't understand why they should charge people to walk with a cane,“ says Nirmita Narasimhan, policy director, The Centre for Internet and Society.

The economic burden is accentuated by a lack of institutional support, whether in terms of accessibility to public transport or provision of affordable aids. “There is close correlation between poverty and disability . Most of us can't step out of our houses as roads, pavements and public transport are inaccessible,“ asks Javed Abidi, director, National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People.

Narasimhan notes in her submission to the government that the 21 million disabled record low literacy level (59%, below national average of 74.4%) and low work participation (36.3%).

To reduce the financial burden, Abidi and others fought to do away with taxes on aids since 2000. “We could bring down tax rates, sometimes as high as 20%, on various items to 5%. In 2006, it became zero and the last decade was the most important one for disability rights. Instead of making aids more affordable, we are now going back 10 years and charging 5% again,“ says Abidi, a wheelchair user.

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