Will West Bengal Chief Minister and Trinamool Congress supremo Mamata Banerjee be involved in yet another rollback of a policy measure by the Congress-led UPA government at Delhi? This time, it is Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee’s proposals in the Union Budget related to the gems and jewellery sector which are in her line of fire.
The state’s industries and commerce minister, Partha Chatterjee, and TMC parliamentary party leader Sudip Bandyopadhyay have already written to the Centre for a review of the rise in customs duty on gold and excise on jewellery proposed in the Budget. In the Rajya Sabha on Monday, members from the TMC, CPI(M) and BJP also raised the issue.
Many artisans of gold jewellery firms are Bengalis. Hence, trade and employee bodies are playing the Mamata card to put pressure on the finance ministry. They’d earlier met the finance minister but failed to get relief. The proposed imposts — there are others than those mentioned earlier, such as a new tax deduction at source for cash transactions above a certain limit — have resulted in a prolonged agitation. Jewellers have been saying employees of small units would be the first casualty of the trade.
“After protests across the country, we have now approached the TMC chief. This would be important for the state as about 10 million Bengali artisans are involved in the profession. We hope her party and she would help us roll back the central government proposals, like she did in the railways’ fare hike and foreign direct investment in the retail sector,” said Bachhraj Bamalwa, chairman, All India Gems & Jewellery Trade Federation (GJF).
Minister Partha Chatterjee said he’d written “a letter based on a meeting with representatives of the Swarna Silpa Bachao Committee and requested reconsideration of the rise in duty on gold or the party would seriously take up the issue”. Bandyopadhyay said the party would not allow such anti-industry proposals.
Apart from the rise in import duty and the decision to collect tax at source on purchase of bullion or jewellery in excess of Rs 200,000, the industry is restive at the imposition of excise duty “as a run up to the Goods and Services Tax (GST),” for an industry which never came under the ambit of such a tax.
The annual sales turnover of this industry is said to be at least Rs 2,50,000 crore. The GJF says about 20 million people work in the industry, whose future will in trouble if these steps are implemented. “Didi will give us justice and her party has promised a roll back of the duties on gold. In Parliament, the issue was raised by Arun Jaitley from the BJP, Sukhendu Sekhar Roy of the TMC and Tapan Sen of the CPI(M),” said Samar Kumar Dey, president, Swarna Silpa Bachao Committee.