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In what could be a bitter experience for the sweet-loving residents of West Bengal, over two lakh sweet shops, celebrated for their rosogollas and mishti doi, across the state went on a 24-hour strike on Monday to protest imposition of five per cent Goods and Services Tax (GST). Monday's protest is expected to cause an estimated loss of Rs 100 crore to the industry employing around 10 lakh people directly. From north to south Kolkata, and its suburbs, most of the popular large, medium and small sweet outlets were shut. Iconic sweetmakers KC Das, whose erstwhile owner Nabin Chandra Das is widely regarded as the inventor of the rosogolla in 1868, said all its four outlets here were closed. "Business loss estimated to be around Rs 2 to 3 lakh in total for the day," KC Das' Director Dhiman Das said. Sweet shop owners have also resolved to strengthen the agitation against the Goods and Services Tax (GST) in days to come. "We are not comfortable with GST. From August 24 to 26, we will also observe a hunger strike. If the Centre doesn't pay heed to our demands of exemption from the tax, then we will intensify our protest," West Bengal Mistanna Byabasayee Samity's General Secretary R. K Paul told IANS. "If you calculate on a daily basis, Rs 5,000 is the approximate sale per shop. If two lakh shops are shut on a day, then the loss is around Rs 100 crore per day," he said. Factor in 10 to 15 per cent profit from the sales and establishment plus employee cost per day, pointed out Paul. While the industry is directly responsible for the livelihoods of at least 10 lakh people, Paul said, there is no estimate of those living-off the business indirectly. "We need accessories as well. For example, paper (for packaging) and printing presses etc. So you can see many people are dependent on the industry indirectly as well," he said. Elaborating on their opposition to GST, he said the Rs 50,000 crore industry in Bengal is "hugely different" from the sweet-making ventures in other states, in terms of the products being "highly perishable", a category exempted from the new tax regime. "We deal with highly perishable goods.
Our sweets are very delicate and have a shelf life of 24 hours. In other states, the kind of sweets they produce is different and can stay on for longer. We were exempted from VAT. The Centre has exempted highly perishable goods from GST. We don't understand why they included our sweets in GST if they are highly perishable," he said.Contacted by IANS, the 1885-established Balaram Mullick and Radharaman Mullick sweetmakers also said that they are participating in the strike. "Our shop is unofficially open to cater to the orders/deliveries placed in advance. We are transacting business with only those who are scheduled to collect their pre-ordered items today (Monday). Customers who are coming in for regular purchases are being turned away," a salesperson said. Confectioners said what has added to their woes is that their products fall under all slabs -- 28 per cent for any sandesh/sweet with chocolate in it, five per cent for rosogolla and sandesh, and 12 per cent for mishti doi. In addition to the evergreen traditional recipes of rosogolla, mishit doi and sandesh, Bengal sweetmeat makers have adapted to modern tastes by incorporating ingredients like chocolates, fruit pulps like those of mangoes, kiwis and blueberries and extending their repertoire with innovations like ice-cream sandesh and kulfi sandesh.