KOLKATA: The 28 per cent Goods and Services Tax (GST) on musical instruments has struck a discordant note with their manufacturers and dealers in West Bengal, whose capital Kolkata is a traditional hub of the industry.
Upset over revenue loss with sales hitting rock bottom post the steep tax burden, they have written to West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee to remedy the situation.
"In just one month, the market has crashed. In one month, if a shop used to sell instruments worth Rs 1 lakh, that has come down to Rs 20,000," Ajit Kumar Mondal, secretary of West Bengal Musical Instruments Dealers and Manufacturers Association, told IANS.
Earlier, some items were classified as handmade instruments and were exempt from tax. "These included tabla and harmoniums among others. Rest were under the 14.5 per cent VAT structure of state government. Now it has become 28 per cent after GST," said Mondal.
The manufacturers are also confused with the 'indigenous handmade musical instruments' slab in the current tax regime. Items in this category would be exempt from GST.
"We do not know exactly what instruments can be classified in the 'indigenous handmade instruments' category. We have sought clarification about the kind of musical instruments under this slab by writing to the sales tax office," he said.
The devoted makers and dealers of these instruments - sitars, sarods, violins, tablas and harmoniums - scattered mainly across Lalbazar in central and Chitpore Road in north Kolkata, have sought exemption from the tax slab. In their workshops, one can see the workers whittling out string or wind instruments out of scratch from a mix of metal and wood.
Asked whether they were planning any agitation against GST, Mondal said they were waiting for response from the state and the centre.
"If no one responds, we will discuss what needs to be done next," he said.
Mondal said while in Kolkata alone, over a lakh persons are directly or indirectly involved in the business, at least five times more are linked to it in the entire state. In Lalbazar's narrow alleys, 50 shops ply their trade.
"Our key clientele include music schools, schools and other educational establishments as well as enthusiasts. Since traditional music is a big part of our cultural heritage, the business was doing well up until GST came. We have also written to the Union Finance Ministry," Mondal said.
Maestro Ravi Shankar used to buy his instruments in the city. In 1952, Yehudi Menuhin's violin was repaired by craftsmen in Chitpore Road, during his India tour.
One of the major blows has come from the sale in other states as inter-state trade has "virtually stopped."
"Kolkata is the major hub of wholesale musical instruments in the country. We supply our products all over India. Now our customers are not keen to purchase them because of the escalating costs," he said.
The instruments most hit due to GST are the ever popular guitar and harmonium -- emblematic of the British legacy as in the 1800s the foot-bellow harmonium was in vogue in the city as also the French touch -- French-made instruments were brought to the city by missionaries in the 19th century).