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Sari shutdown in Varanasi

Anger against tax in Modi seat

By Piyush Srivastava in Lucknow
  • Published 1.07.17
Threat to benarasi?

Lucknow, June 30: Benarasi sari shops and manufacturing units in Varanasi, Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Lok Sabha seat, have been closed for the past four days in protest against the goods and services tax he rolled out with much fanfare at midnight and have threatened an indefinite strike if inputs used by the industry are not exempt.

"Modi used and misused Varanasi only for political gains and put the Benarasi sari in danger," a statement issued by some 80-odd associations linked to the trade said after a meeting last night.

While the sari itself continues to remain exempt from taxes, as all handloom fabric and silk yarn are, many of the inputs used in its manufacture that were earlier tax-free have now been brought under GST.

Rajan Bahal, general secretary of the Varanasi Vastra Udyog Association, said that as a result, saris that earlier cost between Rs 8,000 and Rs 25,000 would now come for Rs 13,000 to Rs 30,000.

"The machine needed to manufacture the sari has to bear the burden of GST. The zakaat (on which the design of the sari is made for printing), fanni (iron plate), wooden tana-bana (on which the thread is stretched) have also come under GST. We were not paying any tax on these items in past," Haji Maqbool Hassan, a weavers' leader, said.

Many complained that the Modi regime had dealt them a second blow before they had recovered from the impact of demonetisation, imposed last November.

"The government says GST will not affect the Benarasi sari market. But it has decided to indirectly mint money out of this industry with a Rs 2,000-crore annual turnover," said Hafiz Ahmad, a weaver in Varanasi's Pilikothi area in whose house the representatives of the associations met last night.

Bahal of the Varanasi Vastra Udyog Association said the four-day closure had cost the trade Rs 450 crore.

"It is a design of the Centre to systematically crush those who are involved in the industry. It is the peak season for the sari. A large number of traders from Calcutta and other parts of Bengal have been camping here to buy the saris to be sold there before Durga Puja," Bahal said.

Bahal feared that exports would also be hit because of higher taxes on transportation, storage and related expenses. "Exporters used to pay 18 per cent on Benarasi saris. Now it will be 28 per cent."

Mohanlal Sarawagi, patron of Resham Taga Sangh which represents makers of threads used in the saris, accused the government of "playing with the unique identity of Varanasi". Over 2.5 lakh families in the city of around 70 lakh people earn their livelihood from the saris.

Mahesh Nawalgariya, a former general secretary of the Taga Sangh, said: "We want the Centre to withdraw all taxes on inputs or we will start an indefinite strike."

We ensured his victory from the city of weavers with the hope that he would support the industry. But he is working against it. Let the next election come and we will teach him a lesson," Mahto said.