Jewellers’ strike casts a dark shadow on survival of artisans

  • Nachiket Kelkar, Hindustan Times, Mumbai
  • Updated: Mar 14, 2016 01:53 IST
Jewellers in Mumbai protest against the budget proposal to levy excise duty. (HT Photo)

Jewellers, who have been on strike since March 3 in protest against a new levy on gold purchases introduced in the Budget, on Tuesday announced their decision to stop sales of bullion bars with immediate effect.

Sixty-year-old Motilal Soni from Thane, a suburb of Mumbai, is a worried man.

Originally from Jaunpur, Uttar Pradesh, Soni has spent decades in Mumbai as an artisan in the jewellery business. Usually, due to the peak wedding season, March is a busy month for jewellers. But, this time it is different. Thanks to the indefinite strike by jewellers, who are protesting against the budget proposal to levy a 1% excise duty, Soni has no work.

Now in its twelfth day, the strike has raised questions on the future of Soni’s entire family, given that he and his four sons are skilled jewellery workers.

“We stay in a rented house, we have to take care of our family... No work means, no money. I am really worried how I or my family will survive since all we know is making jewellery,” Motilal told HT when contacted. 

While the big jewellers can sustain even if their shops remain closed, the situation is worrisome for the over 10-million skilled jewellery artisans and craftsmen across India, who get paid on a per-job basis and have been carrying on this work over generations. Last week, a worker at a jewellery-making unit in Indore reportedly committed suicide due to financial distress. 

Soni’s youngest son Vimal is now trying his hands at other small-time jobs that will earn him some daily wage. “Yesterday, I delivered some clothes from a merchant to his clients. If this strike continues, we will have to try and do something else, after all it’s a question of survival,” Vimal said. 

Jewellers admit that business amounting to Rs 60,000 crore has already been lost, and they are concerned for the artisans. “But it’s a question of resisting an unfair levy,” said Mohit Kamboj, president of Indian Bullion & Jewellers Association. “We are requesting the government to impose levy in any other form such as customs or VAT, but not excise. It will bring back inspector raj.”

The association, along with other groups such as the Gems and Jewellery Trade Federation, plan to converge in Delhi on March 17 to put pressure on the government.

Since jewellery-making involves different hands — plate-making, wire-pulling, beads makers —keeping track of books is likely to be difficult, jewellers said. “Even for Rs 100, we will have to maintain transaction records. How are we expected to work like this,” an employee at a small jewellery shop in Kandivali, Mumbai, said.

According to jewellers, it is not only about the 1% additional duty, but about the reams of paperwork that will have to be maintained. “The government mentions ease of doing business. This (levy) is going backwards,” said Yogi Bulchandani, CEO, Diamantina Fine Jewels.

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