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Disabled battle for duty relief

New Delhi, Jan. 30: Dealt a blow by fate, the 70 million disabled citizens of India find no succour from the government. To import a wheelchair, one has to pay a whopping 30 per cent customs duty. For crutches and artificial limbs, the rate is 25 per cent, and 19 per cent for hearing aids.

The finance ministry has tried to provide relief by laying down procedures for availing of exemption of excise and import duties. But a committee set up by the social justice ministry said these guidelines are “user-unfriendly” and need to be changed. The procedure for getting a “disability certificate” that would entitle institutions and individuals to tax relief is full of hitches and mired in red-tape.

The Disabled Rights Group along with other non-government organisations have been agitating for years for removal of these duties to make the lives of the disabled easier. Despite a string of letters to several ministries, including the finance, they have made little headway.

Pointing to the findings of a study conducted by the DRG, its convener Javed Abidi said: “The customs duty on rough semi-precious stones and raw cultured pearls is just 5 per cent. There is no customs (duty) on computers but the closed circuit television sets used as low vision aids for the visually disabled people are charged 25 per cent customs duty.”

The rights groups for the disabled have knocked on every possible door — met the ministers of finance and social justice, staged dharnas in the heart of the city, petitioned the Prime Minister — to end this injustice.

On the eve of the last budget, then finance minister Yashwant Sinha met the DRG representatives, but none of their 12 demands were included in the budget. Later, once the Prime Minister intervened, a couple of committees were instituted to look into the demands.

With another budget session approaching next month, the DRG has renewed its efforts for justice. In a letter to finance minister Jaswant Singh, Abidi has written: “We request you to give us an appointment at your earliest convenience so that a delegation of NGO leaders and disability activists can call on you to explain the issues.”

Apart from its demand for an exemption of import duty on aids and appliances used by the disabled, the DRG is seeking a hike in the income-tax exemption limit for the challenged citizens and incentives for public sector companies willing to employ the disabled.

“There is a need to totally exempt all kinds of aids and appliances meant for persons with disabilities from the purview of customs and excise duties,” the report of the committee of the social justice ministry has recommended.

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