Insofar as the Indirect tax benefits, it is heartening to note that all ambulance services will be exempt from Service tax effective from 01 April 2015 [Notification. 6/2015-ST refers]. Prior to this amendment, effectively only ambulance service provided by a clinical establishment to a patient to and from a clinical establishment was exempt from Service tax. This widening of the exemption is a welcome measure and ideally all ambulance services should have been kept out of the Service tax net from the very first instance. However, given that this exemption has been widened now, the move on the part of the Finance Minister appears to be thoughtful and caring. Nonetheless, the exemption could have been given w.e.f 01.03.2015 when the fact is the excise benefits are extended from this date.
Further, the Excise duty for chassis on ambulances has been reduced from 24% to 12.5%, subject to actual user condition [Notification. 12/2015-CE]. Prior to this Budget, the motor vehicles cleared as ambulances duly fitted with all fitments, furniture and accessories necessary for an ambulance were only entitled to lower excise duty. The benefit of lower Excise duty for chassis on ambulances has addressed the anomaly of the inverted duty structure on such transactions. The other benefit for this sector is that the Excise duty has been exempt on various raw materials (benefit given on as many as 13 raw materials) which are used in the manufacture of pace makers.
In so far as Customs laws are concerned, the Budget has clarified the procedure to be followed for claiming Countervailing Duty (‘CVD’) exemption on bulk drugs. It stands clarified that there is no requirement to separately comply with the Central Excise (Removal of Goods at Concessional Rate of Duty for Manufacture of Excisable Goods) Rules, 2001 for the purpose of availing the CVD exemption, if the procedure laid down in the Customs (Import of Goods at Concessional Rate of Duty for Manufacture of Excisable Goods) Rules, 1996 stands followed by the importer for availing exemption/ concession from basic customs duty on the said goods.
Lastly, the Service tax exemption on services by way of construction, erection, commissioning, installation, completion, fitting out, repair, maintenance, etc. provided to Government (or a local authority or a governmental authority) for a structure meant predominantly for use as a clinical establishment will be withdrawn from 01 April 2015 [Notification. 6/2015-ST]. The prudence of levying Service tax on this transaction of construction, repair etc. of a Government structure predominantly used as a clinical establishment is open to debate when the health service (i.e. the end service) is itself exempt from Service tax. The Finance Minister could have continued with this exemption to ensure consistency in the entire chain of the transaction (i.e. beginning from construction/ repair of the clinical establishment to provision of service from the clinical establishment). Withdrawal of this exemption appears to address the issue of CENVAT Credit (or again inverted duty/tax structure) for the service provider. However, the Government then needs to ensure that the burden of this Service tax is not passed on to the end customer (namely the patient) one way or another.
The Budget document reflects the intention of the Government as far as health sector is concerned and some of the steps taken in this regard appear to be in the right direction.