A long wait: Indian diaspora sends Covid aid, but it gets stuck in the process – India Today

Posted By on May 8, 2021

As India battles the second wave of coronavirus infections with an acute shortage of medical equipment, representatives of the Indian diaspora say they are finding it hard to send medical aid to NGOs, hospitals and civil society groups in the country.

The reason, they say, is a cumbersome clearance process and the Integrated Goods and Service Tax (IGST) rates. Even after reaching India, several consignments of oxygen concentrators are lying at airports due to IGST rules.

A group representing the Indian diaspora in Amsterdam, Netherlands has initiated a campaign to send medical help to India.

'Support Humanity in India', started by Captain Sanjay Sharma collected 50 oxygen concentrators and sent them to India to help Covid-19 patients. While the group aims to send 1,000 oxygen concentrators, it says managing logistics has become a "nightmare".

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Initially, the Indian government was not willing to exempt IGST on imports by private entities to NGOs and other organisations that are helping in Covid relief. The exemption was only applicable for contributions made to the Indian government through the Indian Red Cross Society.

This decision was revised and all imports for Covid relief were exempted from IGST. However, the exemption came with riders.

Medical aid sent by 'Support Humanity in India'.

"We have received several requests from different parts of India, and we want to help them. It should not be such a difficult process when all that we want to do is save Indian lives," said Captain Sanjay Sharma.

He added that since the group was receiving calls from hospitals and NGOs across the country, they decided to send the medical aid directly to them instead of sending it through the Indian Red Cross Society.

"The Indian Embassy told us if we donate through the Red Cross, we won't have to pay 12 per cent IGST and air freight from the Netherlands to India. I had written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Union home minister Amit Shah and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal to airlift the oxygen concentrators free of charge from the Netherlands and to exempt 12 per cent IGST on them. But we have not received any reply," Captain Sharma said.

Later, the organisation found an agency that would deliver the oxygen concentrators free of cost.

"The freight forwarding team of Global Logistics provider GEODIS, that works with Qatar Airways CARE, gave us efficient and timely support to move this shipment from Amsterdam to India. We appreciate their selfless and dedicated efforts," said Captain Sharma.

Meanwhile, on May 3, the Union finance ministry issued a notification exempting basic customs duty and/or health cess on imports of a number of Covid-19 related relief materials, for a limited period, till June 30.

The notification said the central government had received a number of representations from charitable organisations, corporate entities, and other associations outside India seeking exemption from IGST on import of Covid-19 relief material, donated/received free of cost from outside India for free distribution.

However, these exemptions are subject to following conditions:

The first shipment of these critical supplies landed at the Mumbai airport from Amsterdam on May 3 around 3:30pm. However, it was stuck with the Customs since the officials were demanding Integrated Goods and Service Tax (IGST).

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"After waiting the whole day, we learnt that IGST has been waived off by the government. We were relieved but it was short-lived since the conditions that have to be met are so tedious that it would have caused more delays. We did not want people to suffer more and therefore paid close to Rs.3 lakh as IGST," said Shekhar Roy Chowdhury, a member of 'Support Humanity in India'.

At the time of publishing this report, the consignment was still awaiting Customs clearance in Mumbai.

Captain Sharma says the IGST that they have paid is "not reflecting" in the system, which is causing further delay in distribution of the oxygen concentrators.

"I can't understand why we are not getting any help from the Indian government when people are dying. Every minute is important for people who need oxygen support," said Prakash Ayer.

Captain Sharma says their group is trying to procure 1,000 more oxygen concentrators and other medical equipment that will be sent to India as aid.

"It will be a total waste of money if we pay 12 per cent IGST. The amount can be used to procure more items. Finding a nodal officer to clear this is going to be very difficult," he says.

ALSO READ | Where are Covid-19 foreign aid supplies going? Opposition asks Centre to make details public

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A long wait: Indian diaspora sends Covid aid, but it gets stuck in the process - India Today

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