BENGALURU: City’s Gandhians have called for a Civil Disobedience Movement to protest against the Goods and Service Tax (GST) imposed on handmade products. At a protest, they will sell handmade goods without paying the tax and invite people to do the same. J K Suresh, one of the organisers and member of Loke Vidya Vedike, says, “It is an inclusive event. People can also put a table at the venue and sell handmade products without tax as part of disobedience movement.” Several artistes, social activists and consumers will participate in the Tax Denial Satyagraha, at Town Hall at 4.30 pm today, and urge craftspeople to boycott GST.
M D Pallavi, two-time State award winner for playback singing, will be present. She says, “One of the vachanas that I would be singing is a poem written by a weaver. He uses clothes and weaves as metaphors to describe life.” The event is spearheaded by Graama Seva Sangha, a Gandhian collective that helps urban people connect with rural projects. Abhilash C A, convenor of the organisation, says, “The demand is to waive GST for all handmade products. Instead of incentivising, the government is snuffing out this industry which is eco-friendly and supports rural economy.” Several cooperative societies who work with weavers have sent appeals to the Prime Minister Office requesting for a waiver but there was no response, he says. “For the first time since Independence, Khadi is also being taxed.”
He believes Make-in-India introduced by the Modi government is not swadeshi. “Swadeshi means something local and close to Nature,” he says. B Syama Sundari, convenor of Federation of Handloom Organisations, adds, “The handloom sector is truly Made in India. If GST is imposed, these weavers will lose their jobs and migrate to already crowded cities.”
Sooting a green industry
Abhilash says these weavers will be left with only an option, to mechanise the process, gaining a carbon footprint. Syama adds the handloom production is the most green industry: “It does not involve mechanisation and the loom is a wooden structure set up in the house of the weavers.”
Handmade products should be made accessible to all, but GST will put them beyond many people’s reach. Abhilash says, “Hence there is a consumer movement protesting against GST on these products. It will force them to opt for cheaper substitutes. Social equality comes with sustainability and vice versa.”
Sharada Ganesh, Head of Planning and Development at the organisations Desi and Charaka, adds that the consumers should question why they are being charged for shopping responsibly for green products that support a rural economy.
Admin and accounting troubles
She says that the tax affects non-registered weavers the most. “Registration is not required if the annual income is below `20 lakh. So smaller non-registered organisations find it difficult to procure raw materials or hire transport because they are asked for GST numbers,” she says.
Akhila Kumar who runs Om Creations says, “The quilts I make come under luxury products. I source cotton and polyfibre paying 28 per cent tax for it. As I am not registered, I am forced to pay tax to the person I source raw materials from but I cannot impose tax on my products while selling them.” She has hence, increased price of a queen-size quilt from `3,500 to `5,000. “My turnover will reduce,” she adds.
Syama who is also the co-ordinator, policy research and advocacy, Dastakar Andhra, says, “The weavers are mainly located in villages. They have to file two returns monthly. They need to upload the details of the purchase and sales figure and then bills after sales. But how can they do when their digital literacy is poor?” They are hence, forced to be dependent on other resources for computing. “Staffers at the Handloom Cooperative Society threaten to resign because they will have to shoulder more responsibilities as the weavers would depend on them for computing or accounting work as well,” she says.
Suresh of Loke Vidya Vedike says there is a danger of Indian handmade products to be also replaced by the Chinese products. “In spite of an anti dumping duty imposed on Chinese goods, their goods will still be 18 per cent cheaper than the Indian artefacts.”