India: When politics take back seat for a good cause

Shashi Tharoor reveals Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman granted GST exemption on life-saving injection for minor cancer patient, on his request


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Congress MP Shashi Tharoor at Parliament House complex in New Delhi. — PTI file
Congress MP Shashi Tharoor at Parliament House complex in New Delhi. — PTI file

Published: Wed 29 Mar 2023, 6:23 PM

Last updated: Wed 29 Mar 2023, 6:24 PM

Amid the intense political war of words both inside and outside parliament, between the ruling BJP and the opposition Congress over the disqualification of Rahul Gandhi from the Lower House, Lok Sabha MP Shashi Tharoor on Wednesday cited a rare instance of two leaders from rival camps setting aside their political differences for a noble cause.

Sharing an instance of him writing to Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, seeking a GST exemption for certain life-saving drugs required by a cancer patient, Tharoor thanked the former for granting his request.

Sharing the anecdote, the Thiruvananthapuram MP wrote, "Whenever I am assailed by doubts about spending so much of my life in politics, something like this happens and makes it all worthwhile. Thank you Nirmala-ji, thank you Sernya and thank you, Vivek. You have reaffirmed my faith in government, in politics, and above all in humanity. Jai Hind".

The Congress leader said he was approached by a young couple, desperately seeking help for their baby girl who was suffering from a rare form of cancer — 'High-Risk Neuroblastoma' (Stage IV).

Narrating their plight, the couple told the MP that only a shot of Dinutuximab Beta (Qarziba) could save their daughter's life. However, the injection, per vial, costs Rs1 million, and the total cost of her immunotherapy cycle was estimated at about Rs6.3 million.

Tharoor said while the minor's parents somehow managed to raise the required money, after having the drug imported, they were asked to pay Rs700,000 as GST which they could not afford. The life-saving vials were stuck at the Mumbai Airport as the Customs would not release the consignment till the GST payment was made.

Out of options, the parents knocked on the Thiruvananthapuram MP's door, urging his help. Tharoor then wrote to Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on March 15, requesting an exemption in GST on 'humanitarian grounds'.

As the letter had, somehow, escaped Sitharaman's notice, Tharoor rang her up and explained the situation.

"I told her that this baby depended on her (Sitharaman) exercising her authority immediately, as the drug was perishable and would expire while in the custody of Customs," Tharoor wrote.

Within half an hour of his telephonic conversation with the finance minister, the Congress leader said he received a call from Sitharaman's personal secretary Sernya Bhutia.

The Congress leader was informed that the situation has been discussed with the Central Board of Indirect Taxes and Customs, and by 7pm on March 26, a GST exemption was granted on the release of the life-saving injections.

"The family will get (the) injection, the baby will live, and our exchequer will sacrifice Rs700,000 in GST income to bring life and joy to a small child," Tharoor wrote further.

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