For the last two weeks, the government and some transport companies have stepped up efforts to help cope with Covid-19 by facilitating the import of essential medicines, vaccines, medical equipment, etc.
The finance ministry exempted basic customs duty on import of Remdesivir injections, active pharmaceutical ingredients of Remdesivir, Beta Cyclodextrin (SBEBCD) used in making Remdesivir and specified inflammatory diagnostic (marker) kits till end-October 2021. It also exempted basic customs duty and health cess on import of medical oxygen, equipment required for generation, storage, distribution and transport of oxygen and parts of such equipment, ventilator and their accessories, high-flow nasal canula devices, non-invasive ventilation masks for use with intensive care unit ventilators, helmets for use with non-invasive ventilation and Covid-19 vaccine till end-July this year. Imports of these items will, however, attract integrated goods and services tax (IGST).
Donations of Covid-related material and medicines from foreign governments have started arriving at our ports and airports. The finance ministry has instructed the Customs field formations to priorities Customs clearance of imported goods relating to the pandemic, including medical-grade oxygen, specified equipment for production, transportation and distribution of oxygen, equipment for oxygen therapy to Covid-19 patients and Covid-19 vaccines etc. In a meeting chaired by the Cabinet Secretary, it was decided that in all cases of Covid-related imports facilitated by the Ministry of External Affairs and/or imported by Indian Red Cross society, permissions/ licences/ authorisations required from other government departments/ agencies before clearance of goods, if any, would be deemed to have been given. In other words, such cases need not be referred to those agencies. The Minister of State for Ports, Shipping and Waterways Mansukh Mandaviya has asked chairpersons of major ports to personally monitor the medical oxygen-related cargo for swift and efficient handling at all major ports. The Directorate General of Shipping has extended seafarer certificates of competency/certificate of proficiency till this year-end to help seafarers join the ships easily.
The commerce ministry has allowed the import of oxygen concentrators for personal use through post, courier or e-commerce portals, where Customs clearance is sought as gifts till 31st July 2021.
The defence ministry has deployed its resources for treating Covid-19 patients and transporting Covid-related medicines and medical equipment. The Directorate General of Foreign Trade (DGFT) has set up a ‘Covid-19 Helpdesk’ that would look into import/ export licensing issues, customs clearance delays and related complexities.
On Thursday, PM Relocations, a logistics firm, extended free service for moving medical and essential services to health care firms, hospitals, pharmacies and individuals. On the same day, Qatar Airways said that it would ship medical aid and equipment to the country free of charge from global suppliers. The airline intends to transport 300 tonnes of aid from its global network to Doha from where it will be flown in a cargo aircraft convoy to Indian destinations.
With concerted and coordinated efforts from all concerned, the supplies of essential goods should increase in the next few weeks. Hopefully, the demand for such goods will go down.