Demanding rollback of Goods and Services Tax on Kashmir handicrafts within two weeks, hundreds of artisans and traders associated with the sector from across the Valley on Thursday held a sit-in at Pratap Park in the city-centre.
Handicraft has been taxed at 12 percent under GST regime and the job works related to it would be taxed at 18 percent.
The protesting artisans, traders, manufacturers, exporters, intimidators, raw material suppliers who shouted anti-GST slogans have set a deadline of two weeks for the state government to rollback GST and threatened to intensify the protests if their demands are not fulfilled.
The protesting handicraft stakeholders also took out a symbolic funeral procession of a spinning wheel from Pratap Park to nearby Press Colony while carrying banners that read "Don't mar my livelihood" and "GST free handicrafts".
Addressing the sit-in, member of committee of administration, J&K region at Carpet Export Promotion Council (CEPC) and carpet exporter, Sheikh Ashiq said handicraft stakeholders won't budge until GST on handicrafts is rolled back by the government . Ashiq who was part of the group that met Finance Minister Haseeb Drabu earlier said "government keeps on saying they have a veto power let them now make amendments".
"The state government came under pressure due to our call for protest and that's why they called us for a meeting. People from all handicraft segments including those associated with washing, binding and repairing of products have to be united to ensure that GST on our goods becomes 0 percent as everyone is affected," Ashiq said. Ashiq said Finance Minister Haseeb Drabu has informed traders and exporters that he has appealed GST council to make GST on handicrafts 0 percent. "But the FM seems to have a conviction that it (GST) won't go below 5 percent which we completely oppose," he added.
Amid anti-GST slogans, holding a banner that read "Don't kill us by snatching our livelihood", Ali Muhammad Ganie, a 75-year-old carpet weaver from Nowgam area in Sumbal braved the intense August heat but continued to be a part of the sit-in for several hours. Ganie who has been a carpet weaver for four decades said GST will "kill Kashmiri carpet" which has already been hit by various local and global factors.
"We are poor carpet weavers as this trade has been facing a slump for last several years especially since 2014 floods. Handicraft was a precious heritage from our forefathers which has been completely damaged by the counterproductive government policies," said Ganie.
Among the protesters also included youngsters such as Khanyar-based Lateef Bazaz who runs Em Em Exports firm. Bazaz lamented that on one hand the government "is promising to create employment" and on the other hand "the same government is snatching livelihood of lakhs of people by imposing heavy taxes on handicrafts ".
Muhammad Yusuf Wani, president of Kashmir Carpet Manufacturers Association said 3.5 lakh families across Kashmir are dependent on handicrafts and threatened that artisans " will hit the roads" if GST is not rolled back.
Parvez Bhat, president, Artisans' Rehabiliation Forum said GST will make Kashmiri handicrafts "uncompetitive" as it is already struggling against Chinese products. "Our exports have declined from Rs 2300 crore to Rs 1100 crore and levy of GST will further hit handicraft trade. Even vendors who used to sell products door to door in various cities are not spared," Bhat said.