The government on Saturday exempted basic customs duty on import of Covid vaccine, medical-grade oxygen and related equipment to boost domestic availability and make them cheaper amid rising infections across the country. The decision to exempt customs duty was taken at a meeting chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to boost oxygen availability in the country and put highest priority on Covid treatment. Over the past two months, the outbreak in India has exploded, with reports of super spreader gatherings, oxygen and medicine shortages.
Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, Commerce and Industry Minister Piyush Goyal, Health Minister Harsh Vardhan and other key officials attended the meeting.The finance ministry has directed Customs officers to clear all import consignments, including life-saving drugs and oxygen equipment, used in Covid treatment on the highest priority amid a surge in infections across the country.
Central Board of Indirect Taxes and Customs (CBIC) said the decision is aimed at ensuring that all such materials and equipment reach the intended beneficiaries within the shortest possible time."CBIC has given directions to all its field formations to clear these consignments on the highest priority," the board said in a tweet.Gaurav Masaldan, a nodal officer, has been appointed in the Revenue Department for issues related to customs clearance for oxygen and related items. Piyush Goyal also said in a tweet that in another step towards fighting Covid-19, customs will expedite clearances for import consignments relating to the pandemic to ensure critical equipment and medicine can reach on time.
"In order to augment their production and availability and to meet the rising demand, it was decided to grant full exemption from Basic Customs Duty and health cess on import of the following items related to oxygen and related equipment for a period of three months with immediate effect," an official statement said. It was also decided that basic customs duty on import of Covid vaccines be also exempted with immediate effect for a period of three months, it added. The 16 oxygen and related equipment on which duty has been waived, include oxygen concentrator along with flow meter, regulator, connectors and tubing, oxygen canister, filling systems, storage tanks, cylinders, including cryogenic cylinders and tanks. Ventilators (capable of functioning as high-flow devices) with nasal cannula; helmets for use with non-invasive ventilation, non-invasive ventilation oronasal and nasal masks for ICU ventilators too, have been exempted from the import duty and health cess.
The government presently levies ten per cent customs or import duty on vaccines coming from overseas. The exemption from import duty would help in keeping the cost of overseas vaccines low, that are being eyed to supplement domestically made shots ahead of opening Covid-19 vaccination to all citizens over 18 years of age. Import duty would have made the imported vaccines costlier than the ones made by Serum Institute of India (SII) and Bharat Biotech.
The government has already waived all customs duty on imported Remdesivir injections and the drug's active pharmaceutical ingredients (API) to boost supplies banned its export. While Russia's Sputnik V vaccines are due to arrive this month or by next month, manufacturers like Moderna and Johnson and Johnson have been urged to seek emergency use approval in India. The government earlier this month allowed the emergency use of imported vaccines to curb the spread of coronavirus infections.
With over 3.46 lakh daily new infections, the caseload has crossed 1.66 crore. India's deaths from Covid-19 rose by a record 2,624 to over 1.89 lakh.The government has taken a lot of measures in the last few days to improve oxygen and medical supplies. IAF planes are bringing in cryogenic oxygen tanks from Singapore. It is also transporting oxygen tanks in the country to reduce travel time. Similarly, in a major decision yesterday, free food grains will be given to 80 crore Indians in May and June 2021.