10.12.2022: Supreme Court dismisses petition seeking removal of GST, customs duty on medicines to cure spinal muscular atrophy

The Supreme Court has dismissed a petition seeking removal of levy of goods and services tax (GST) and customs duty on medicines to cure spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), putting the onus on the health ministry to take a call on the matter.

Cure SMA Foundation of India, a parent-led organisation, had approached the court seeking exemption of GST and customs duty on treatment of patients suffering from the disease.

However, the court said, “Ultimately it is for the government to take a policy decision whether to completely exempt any drug for treatment of rare diseases from levy of IGST, CGST, SGST or customs duty. No writ of mandamus can be issued for directing the Union to exempt drugs from payment of tax or duty.”

The court refused to grant any relief to the petitioners. “No writ of mandamus can be issued directing the respondents to permit import the drugs for treatment of SMA directly without approaching the Centre of Excellence. There may be a number of reasons why the drugs are to be cleared by the Centre of Excellence. In view of the above, the petitioners are not entitled to any reliefs as prayed for in the instant writ petition,” it said.

Archana Panda, founding member of Cure SMA Foundation of India, said the foundation will approach the ministry as suggested by the court. However, she said if the ministry does not respond, the foundation will again approach the court. “We will try to explain the plea in a much better way,” she said.

According to the petition the drugs cost in crores. For instance, Spinzara, which is used for all types of SMA, costs about Rs 6 crore for the first year and Rs 3.2 crore for every year for the rest of the life of the patient, said the plea.

Similarly, intravenous injection Zolgensma, which is given to children up to two years of age with SMA, costs about Rs 17 crore. Evrysdi, another drug, costs Rs 72 lakh annually for the first two years and Rs 56 lakh annually from the third year, said the foundation.

The foundation sought the court’s intervention as the government provides conditional exemption on the import of medicines for the cure of SMA, but there is no GST exemption when the medicines are sold domestically.

SMA is an extremely rare degenerative genetically inherited neuromuscular disease that affects children and adults. It results in a progressive loss of motor nerve cells in the brainstem and spinal cord that controls essential muscle activity such as walking, sitting, breathing and even swallowing.
Source: The Economic Times 

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