New Delhi: In an effort to offer relief to thousands of people amid the second wave of COVID pandemic, Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Saturday waived tax on COVID-19 essential items including PPE kit, masks, medicines and equipment. This crucial decision was taken at the 44th Goods and Services Tax (GST) Council meet on Saturday. The move from the Centre came after several states earlier urged the Union government to consider tax relief on COVID-19 essential items.Also Read - THIS Nation Becomes First to Offer Third Covid Vaccine Shot to Older People Above 60

Earlier, the states government had asked the Union finance minister to provide tax relief on COVID-19 essentials such as PPE kits, masks, vaccines and medicines. Also Read - Delta Variant of COVID 'Fittest And Fastest', Infecting Fully-Vaccinated People: Experts

“The GST on electric furnaces and temperature checking equipment brought down to 5% and on ambulances to 12%. These rates will be valid till September as against August end recommended by the GoM,” Sitharaman said on the outcome of 44th GST Council meet. Also Read - No Plans to Print Currency Notes To Tide Over Economic Crisis, Says Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman

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To look into the matter, the finance minister had constituted a Group of Ministers (GoM) to examine possible waivers of GST levies essential supplies. Meghalaya chief minister Conrad Sangma was designated as the convener of the eight-member GoM mad tasked to submit its recommendations to the council by June 8.

As per the suggestion from the 8-member committee, the GST Council has cut tax on medicines and equipment needed in the fight against COVID-19.

As per the announcement, no tax will be charged for medicines like Tocilizumab and Amphotericin B, used for treating Black Fungus, an opportunistic fungal disease that affects people infected with Covid.

The finance minister stated that the tax cuts are valid till September 30, and may be extended nearer the deadline.

She also stated that the Covid vaccines continue to be charged a GST of 5 per cent. Other medicines for which GST has been reduced include anti-coagulants like Heparin (from 12 per cent to 5 per cent), Remdesivir (from 12 per cent to 5 per cent) and any drug recommended by the Health Ministry for Covid treatment (from applicable current rate to 5 per cent).

The 44th GST Council meeting was attended by Minister of State for Finance Anurag Thakur, besides finance ministers of states and Union territories and senior officers from Union government and states.

The Council discussed the report of the Group of Ministers, headed by Meghalaya Deputy Chief Minister Conrad Sangma, on GST concessions on COVID-19 relief items like medical grade oxygen, pulse oximeters, hand sanitisers and ventilators, among others.

UP Finance Minister Suresh Kumar Khanna, who is also a member of the GoM, had on Wednesday said the state is in favour of cutting taxes on COVID-19 essentials to facilitate patients, but will accept the decision of the GST Council on tax rates.

The GST Council in its previous meeting on May 28 left taxes on COVID-19 vaccines and medical supplies unchanged after the BJP- and Opposition-ruled states sparred over whether the tax cut benefits will reach the common man. The GoM was set up to recommend rates for COVID-19 essentials.