* Foreign & Business

Top court rejects pleas challenging Port City Bill
Go ahead: The Port City is the largest single foreign investment in Sri Lanka . AFP

Agence France-Presse Colombo

A Chinese-funded tax-free enclave billed as Sri Lanka’s answer to Dubai and Singapore cleared the final legal hurdle on Tuesday as the Supreme Court in Colombo ruled it could go ahead with only minor tweaks.

The largest single foreign investment in Sri Lanka is one of several massive Asian infrastructure projects funded by China as Beijing increases its regional footprint.

Sri Lanka’s top court rejected 19 petitions challenging the “Colombo Port City Economic Commission” Bill and approved the $1.4-billion project subject to minor amendments which the government immediately said it accepted. Project officials have said they hope the brand new “Port City”, an area of reclaimed land, will attract billions of dollars for trade, banking and offshore services similar to what is available in Dubai and Singapore, two of its potential competitors.

Named the “Colombo Port City” because of its proximity to Colombo’s main harbour, the sea reclamation — carried out with considerable Chinese labour — completed in 2019 has doubled the size of Colombo’s financial district by adding 269 hectares.

Under the proposed legislation expected to be passed by Parliament, the Port City will be administered by a commission with unprecedented powers to fast track investment approvals. ll transactions within the Port City will be denominated in foreign currency and all salaries earned by any worker will be tax-exempt.

The additional doses will include AstraZeneca, Pfizer, Moderna and J&J vaccines

Strong defence: A U.S. health worker arranging syringes with the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines. REUTERS

Sriram Lakshman Washington

The U.S. will send at least an additional 20 million COVID-19 vaccine doses, in addition to the 60 million AstraZeneca vaccine it has already committed, to other countries, President Joe Biden said on Monday. The additional doses will include not just AstraZeneca but also Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson’s vaccines.

“Rampant disease and death in other countries can destabilise them — those countries — and pose a risk to us as well,” Mr. Biden said during remarks at the White House. “New variants could arise overseas that could put us at greater risk and we need to help fight the disease around the world to keep us safe here at home, and to do the right thing of helping other people. It’s the right thing to do. It’s the smart thing to do. It’s the strong thing to do,” he added.

While the Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are being used in the U.S., the AstraZeneca vaccine has not been approved. A stockpile of 60 million doses is awaiting safety clearance by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). If received, it will be shipped abroad in its entirety. Although the Biden administration has not released a plan on how it will apportion the vaccines across countries, India is expected to receive a significant share of these.

Enough vaccines

Mr. Biden said the U.S. would have secured enough vaccines for itself by the end of June. ”The United States will share at least 20 million of those doses, that extra supply with other countries,” Mr. Biden said. “This means over the next six weeks, the United States of America will send 80 million doses overseas.”

Mr. Biden said the 80 million doses represent 13% of the country’s vaccine production (by June-end) and that the U.S. will be donating more than Russia and China , which had donated 15 million doses, according to him.

“There’s a lot of talk about Russia and China influencing in the world with vaccines,” Mr. Biden said. “We will not use our vaccines to secure favours from other countries,” he added.

Mr. Biden also announced a new milestone in the U.S.’s fight against COVID : a decline in COVID-19 cases in all 50 States for the first time since the pandemic started. Mr. Biden also said those who do not get vaccinated would end up “paying the price”.

Finance Ministry tells court it is receptive to citizens’ needs, has already offered significant duty relief
Fair play: The petitioner in the case is a senior citizen receiving a concentrator as a gift from a nephew abroad. PTIPTI

Vikas Dhoot NEW DELHI

Requests for relief from the Goods and Services Tax (GST) on critical COVID-19 materials will be placed before the GST Council at its May 28 meeting, the Centre told the Delhi High Court, which had asked it to consider exempting the GST levied on oxygen concentrators imported for personal use.

Stating it had an ‘open mind’ on all tax relief requests, the Finance Ministry, in a counter affidavit filed before the Bench of Justices Rajiv Shakdher and Talwant Singh on Tuesday, argued that merely levying a reasonable GST rate on oxygen concentrators cannot be considered a violation of the Right to Life under Article 21 of the Constitution.

“If the argument of the petitioner is accepted, then it will lead to absurd consequences and interpretations, wherein citizens will be seeking exemption from property tax, since housing is an essential facet of Right of Life... or exemption from taxes on several food items since Right to Food has been held by the Supreme Court to be a part of Right of Life under Article 21,” the Ministry submitted to the court.

Judgment reserved

The Court, which reserved its judgment following Tuesday’s proceedings assisted by Amicus Curiae Arvind Datar, had asked the Centre to drop the GST levy temporarily till the pandemic subsides. The petitioner in the case, a senior citizen getting a concentrator as a gift from a nephew abroad, had invoked Article 21 to challenge a May 1 notification that levied 12% GST on such imports from 28% earlier.

‘Parity to deter misuse’

“Significant relief has already been provided on personal imports of oxygen concentrators with reduction of duty incidence from 77% to 12%,” the Ministry said, adding that tax parity between commercial and personal imports would prevent misuse of the latter route.

“It is felt that any person importing concentrator for personal use or has sources for receiving such supplies in gifts would be in better position to afford the nominal 12% GST as compared to others who source it through commercial channels,” the Ministry said, urging the Court to dismiss the petition. Since GST rates and general exemptions are prescribed on the recommendation of the GST Council, all the representations seeking GST relief shall be placed before the Council at its next meeting, the Ministry said.

“The government is receptive to the needs of the citizens... The government has an open mind to all these requests (for tax relief and exemptions) and it would intervene for further concession, as necessary, in the present unprecedented and very dynamic situation to provide relief to the public, particularly those who are not in a position by themselves to afford the COVID relief supply,” the Ministry added.

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