By Manasi Nene
After the release of new data on proposed GST rates for common goods we were shocked that pads, tampons, and other items used for menstrual hygiene will be taxed at 12 percent, while sindoor and items used for puja go tax free.
But another aspect of the new tax bracket almost went unnoticed, until financial journalist Faye D’Souza pointed it out – we’re going to face a tax of 18 percent against glucose biscuits, a diet staple for many people in this country.
For most of us, glucose biscuits remind of us chai time or happy snack boxes to school, but what we’re forgetting is that they’re also staples for a lot of young children, whose families can’t afford baby food, or more nutritious meals. Among the urban poor, with long working hours and easy access to cheap, packaged food mean that often, these biscuits are the go-to food for parents of very young children. And if you are making a face about how biscuits are so unhealthy, let’s just say there are no creches with or without cold-pressed juice for the urban poor. So please don’t argue that it’s good that “junk” food is going to become more expensive.
As D’souza says, “At 8 biscuits for Rs 2, it’s easy to distribute these biscuits; other than bread, they’re the only kind of dry food that one can get for less than Rs 100/kg”.
— Faye DSouza (@fayedsouza) June 3, 2017
The popularity of these biscuits, and their inexpensiveness, means that they are often the only source of sugar for children. If bread can go tax-free, there’s no reason that the cheapest biscuits in the country should be taxed so highly. D’souza also points out that rice and puffed rice are still more expensive than these biscuits, porridge and bananas are perishable, and only dry food like this can be transported easily to all parts of the country.
Finally, as she points out, there is another systemic flaw at work here -– there are no women in the GST council, headed by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley. Perhaps, we can be sure in assuming that a woman would have brought up the question of how raising the tax of glucose biscuits and taxing sanitary napkins instead of sindoor is a bitter pill to swallow.