“They need full-time carers as well as astronomical amounts to spend on medicines and rehabilitation”

The Disabled Rights Group (DRG) has described the Union budget as a huge disappointment for the differently abled population of 70 million in India, and appealed to the government to withdraw the five per cent service tax proposed on healthcare.

In a letter addressed to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, DRG convenor Javed Abidi said: “The Union Finance Minister has been very generous in taking up the Income Tax exemption limit for 'Very Senior Citizens'. It is a good step because with advancing age, older people do need that extra care and protection. Their expenses on medical care and the need for an attendant go up. Therefore, if they are given some relief from taxation, they can use that extra money to fund their extra needs that develop due to old age.

“I wish the Finance Minister had not forgotten the needs of people with disabilities, particularly people with severe disabilities.”

Mr. Abidi said it would not require a very long argument to prove that the needs of a disabled person — especially those with 80 per cent disabilities and above — were any day greater than, say, an 80-year-old senior citizen. They needed full-time carers as well as astronomical amounts to spend on medicines and rehabilitation.

The letter said: “We request you to please ask the Finance Minister to be empathetic to the cause of disabled people also and to extend the same tax exemption [for income up to Rs. 5 lakh] to people with disabilities as well. And needless to say, the same concession should also be available to the parents of a dependent disabled child or disabled person, especially in the case of parents of children/people with psychosocial and intellectual and developmental disabilities.”

The five per cent service tax on healthcare has already drawn adverse reactions from across sections of civil society.

Mr. Abidi said: “I was quite impressed/touched that even those who are in the healthcare business have spoken out and even published advertisements in newspapers to oppose the tax. They have no reason to worry because obviously the additional five per cent burden will get passed on to the patients and their families. Their business will continue to flourish.”

He said that if there was one section that would be most impacted, it would be people with disabilities. At most times, their needs were not fulfilled within the existing public health system, and therefore, per force, a disabled person has to go to a doctor or a rehab professional at one of the “air-conditioned” hospitals or clinics.

“I appeal to you to please convince the Finance Minister to not levy this extra tax on healthcare and to please withdraw/drop this proposal from the Union budget of 2011-2012,” Mr. Abidi said.