July 11th, 2017
Protests in Gujarat against the 5% GST levied on textiles escalated over the last week with textile traders in Ahmedabad joining their peers in Surat in announcing an indefinite strike.
To mount pressure on the government to roll back the 5% GST on cloth, Ahmedabad’s textile traders have taken out massive protests and announced an indefinite strike from Monday, 10 July.
According to The Times of India, the decision to go on indefinite strike was taken on Sunday, 9 June, during a meeting of traders associated with three major textile markets in the city, including Maskati Cloth Market Association, New Cloth Market and Panchkuva Cloth Market, a release by these associations said.
“5 per cent GST on cloth is not acceptable to anyone who is in the textile business. To raise our voice against this tax, all the textile markets in the city will go on indefinite strike from tomorrow, as traders will refrain from any kind of transaction,” the joint statement said.
270 km away in Surat, textile traders in Surat have already been on strike for a week.
Last week’s protest in Surat was met with police high-handedness
The agitation of Surat Textile Traders started from 15 June. A rally in Surat on 3 July saw police lathi-charging the protesting traders.
Thousands of protesting traders assembled near the Ring Road in Surat, demanding the scrapping of GST on textiles.
Police then wielded batons to disperse the agitators who allegedly engaged in stone-pelting.
“In Ahmedabad, around 25,000-30,000 cloth shop owners have gone on an indefinite strike. Police action on protesters in Surat is unacceptable. Instead of meeting our demands, the government is applying force to suppress us,” said Ritesh Shah, a textile shop owner, as reported by Business Standard.
The suppression evoked outrage across the state. The Maskati market in Ahmedabad, a major textile centre in the state, wore a deserted look after Ahmedabad joined Surat in the strike and as around 25,000-30,000 traders observed a shutdown, protesting “police high- handedness”.
“This city gained prominence due to the hard work of businessmen like us. Those indulging in politics have not done much for the city. The police action is unacceptable and was entirely unprovoked. We stand united against the police action and will keep our shops shut indefinitely,” said Ganpat Jain, a member of GST Sangharsh Samiti, which called the shutdown.
Massive rally in Surat over the weekend
On 8 July, thousands of traders took part in a massive rally to protest against the 5% GST rate.
The Saturday afternoon rally was taken out by textile traders to protest the GST on Man Made Fibre (MMF); the protestors submitted a memorandum to the district collector.
The rally took a three-kilometre circular route around the textile market after the police refused permission to the original seven km rally to the Collectorate keeping in mind the threat to law and order, as reported by The Indian Express.
Seeing the immense support from the textile traders from all sectors, the police department had granted rally permission with a condition that it should be taken out in the limit of textile trading markets.
Minister says talks can resolve the issue
Union minister Parshottam Rupala today asked traders to engage in talks with the Centre to resolve the issue instead of staging protests.
“The intention behind rolling out GST was to give a boost to trade and business, not to harass people. I agree that traders are agitating because they are facing some problems due to this new tax structure. But, the issue can be resolved with dialogue with the government,” Rupala told reporters.
The Logical Indian hopes that there is constructive dialogue between the traders and the government so that the issues are resolved as soon as possible. Thousands of workers are presently out of work and this will have far-fetched and disastrous consequences if the situation is not solved immediately.
At the same time, the state government needs to launch an investigation into the behaviour of the police during the Surat protest on 3 July. If the police personnel did indeed conduct themselves violently and suppressed the protestors, it is a serious issue. It should be ensured that the police are sensitised and that such a situation never happens again.