New Delhi: Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Friday in Parliament said imported life-saving drugs including those for spinal muscular atrophy disease for personal use are exempted from basic customs duty but they attract five per cent GST.

However, ad hoc exemption from goods and services tax (GST) on imported life-saving drugs are given on a case-to-case basis during exceptional nature and when such a request is received, she said.

Clarifying the issue raised by Congress Vivek K Tankha during Zero Hour on March 17, Sitharaman in Rajya Sabha said, the member had stated on the day before yesterday that there is one medicine to treat spinal muscular atrophy disease which costs about Rs 16 crore and there is a tax component at Rs 7 crore.

“I would like to apprise the house that the assessment made by the member regarding tax components may not be right,” she said during the Zero Hour in the Upper House.

All life-saving drugs imported for personal use are “exempted from basic customs duty” either unconditionally for specified medicine or subject to a certificate to be issued by DG Health Services or DG Health Services of state government or district medical officer or civil surgeon of the district for other life-saving medicines also, she said.

“Therefore, the import of stated medicine for personal use or treatment of spinal muscular atrophy is entitled to the concession. However, such life-saving medicine attracts a GST rate of 5 per cent which comes to Rs 80 lakh in this case,” she added.

Further, the Finance Minister explained that GST (goods and services tax) rates are prescribed on the recommendation of the GST Council.

And the council has vested in the Union Finance Minister the power to grant “ad hoc exemption” on a case to case basis in the circumstances of exceptional nature.

In exercise of this power, ad hoc exemption from IGST has been allowed for such imports on a case to case basis where a request is received. These exemptions are subsequently placed before the GST Council, she said.

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Spinal muscular atrophy or SMA is a disease caused by the loss of nerve cells. It can lead to the complete breakdown of nerve cells, resulting in zero control over muscle movement.

Stating that he too was surprised by high taxes on life-saving drugs, Chairman M Venkaiah Naidu said such clarification is not mandatory.

However, if a minister wants to clarify, and if there is time, the chair will be more than happy to allow it.

On March 17 during the Zero Hour in the house, Tankha had said spinal muscular atrophy disease affects children up to 2 years, and every year about 2,500 children are born with some degree of spinal muscular disease.

He had said the only drug to treat the disease is manufactured in the US and costs about Rs 16 crore. Besides, the taxes on its import totals about Rs 7 crore.

The Congress MP had mentioned that recently the Prime Minister waived off the tax in a case of five-month-old baby Teera Kamat. He had also talked about toddler Fatima who got the medicine under a compassionate access programme by drug major Novartis.

Tankha also mentioned cases of two children from Bhilari, Shristi and Ayansh Gupta, who too are suffering from the same disease.

“The desperation of these parents is so high no one knows how to save these children,” he had said.

To deal with the situation, the Congress member made four suggestions to help these children, including compulsory tax waiver or no tax on import of the drugs. He had also suggested that the government may bargain and get a better price for these drugs collectively.

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