Mukesh Jain, a 27-year-old textile trader who entered the textile trading business just two months ago, found a unique way to register his protest against the GST on the textile industry. Jain spent Rs 575 and got “No GST” embroidered on a pista-coloured cotton saree to express solidarity with 65,000 textile traders of Surat city who are threatening to go on an “indefinite strike” as Prime Minister Modi prepares to hardsell India as “textile and apparel destination” to 5,000-odd textile delegates arriving in Gandhinagar on June 30.
“The GST will eliminate small traders like me. I have just started the business. I am already paying rent for my shop and, now I will need to cough up at least Rs 20,000 to hire an accountant to help me with filing returns for the GST,” says Jain. He was at Radha Krishna Textile Market, which is one of the 165 wholesale textile markets in a two sqkm area of Surat city.
Jain unfurls the saree with help of other traders, all wearing white tees with “No GST, No Registration” imprinted in front and “textile yuva brigade” at the back. These traders have gathered for a “Ram Dhun” in protest against the proposed 5 per cent GST on Textile sector.
“We cannot fight the government like the farmers do. We do not want to get beaten like the farmers,” says Manoj Agarwal, president, Federation of Surat Textile Traders Association (FSTTA).
The textile markets that usually throb with people and remain abuzz with activity, wear a complete deserted look on Wednesday — the second day of the three-day strike called by textile traders. Shutters have been pulled down, packets containing stocks lie outside as security guards at the entrance chat among themselves. “Normally, you will take at least an hour to reach here,” says Agarwal, hinting at the activity that surrounds the place.
Kameshwar Varma, who sells “puri and sabzi” for Rs 20 per plate, is sitting idle smoking a bidi at his food stall near Radha Krishna textile market. “I earn Rs 25,00 every day by selling food. But there has been no business since the last three days. I cannot even go home,” says Varma, a migrant from Jharkhand.
Similarly Anil Shah, who operates Mahalaxmi plastic bag shop in a nearby textile trading market, is finding no clients. “My plastic bags are used by traders in packing the sarees and dress materials. On regular days, the daily turnover of business ranges between Rs 15,000-17,000. Due to the ongoing strike of the textile traders, I have not sold single bag. My business also had been affected. Everyday we are facing loss in the business. We pray to God, that strike should end at the earliest so that we could do our business.”
The agitating textile traders too are losing business that can be conservatively valued at Rs 100 crore a day. “The 23-day time period given to us to get ready is too little. Moreover, the government instead of recovering the 12 per cent GST (which we used to pay as VAT) on yarn, it has imposed GST on the entire supply chain which includes yarn manufactures, weavers, processors, embroiderers, and traders. This is not acceptable to us. We have so far decided not to register ourselves under GST and if a solution is not found by June 30, then we will go for an indefinite strike,” Agarwal from FOSTTA says.
Experts point out that the value chain of textile industry in Surat begins with man-made filament being spun into yarn, which is then weaved in power-loom units, sold to textile traders who get it dyed and printed and embroidered at times. The traders later pack it to cloth merchants across the country.
A senior textile trader Rajesh Agarwal, says, “We know that we are fighting our own people. Almost 80 per cent of us is aligned to BJP in one way or the other…. However, politicians are wary of pushing our case, because they fear that they might end up not getting a election ticket if they do so.”
Similar views were expressed by Rajnish Litha, who owns 13 of the 1.5 lakh embroidery machines that provide value-addition to the textile industry. Lamenting on the loss of work due to the ongoing GST strike, Litha while sitting in his office having two huge cut-outs of PM Modi, says, “It is the small players like me who will perish. No politician will help them, nor do they have the necessary finances to go to Delhi and present their case.”
Litha says that he has sent seven of his workers home due to paucity of work at his workplace. “The textile industry had somehow come out from demonetisation. Even if there is a solution, the GST will adversely impact business till Diwali.”
A large section of the textile industry in Gujarat, including those in Ahmedabad and elsewhere is up in arms against the government at a time, when the Union Textiles Ministry is organising a grand three-day convention titled “Textiles India 2017″ at Gandhinagar beginning June 30.
PM Modi along with his 11 senior cabinet colleagues like Minister of Textiles Smriti Irani, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and MoS for Commerce and Industry Nirmala Sitharaman are expected to host delegates from South Korea, Russia and Bangladesh, as well from states like Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Telengana and Jharkhand.
However, local traders in Surat say they have not been invited.”We have been assured that a solution will be ironed out when PM Modi visits Gujarat for the textile summit. However, we have not been invited for the event,” said Manoj Agarwal of FOSTTA.
The textile markets are set to reopen for business on June 30. However, stakeholders claim that if a solution is not found then they will be forced to intensify the agitation.
Federation of Gujarat Weavers Association secretary Mahendra Ramolia says, “There are over six lakh powerlooms running in Surat city, which employees labourers coming from Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Odisha, and other states. With the traders stopping purchase of grey bales, we are facing tough time. Over 60 per cent of the powerloom factories have put limit on their productions using their stocks. The industry is facing 60 per cent production loss, due to the strike of textile traders.”
Vijay Patel, a powerloom factory owner running 25 power loom machine unit had kept his factory closed, since last three days. “Due to the ongoing strike of the traders, my clients have stopped purchasing grey cloth from us. It is difficult for us to survive as we have to face expenses like salary of powerloom machine operator, power charges. Without business, we cannot keep our factory open and bear expenses. I have not registered my firm under GST, but have come to know that 5 per cent GST had been imposed on powerloom. I don’t know much about GST, but I will work accordingly what other powerloom factory owner does,” says Patel.
South Gujarat Textile Processors Association president Jitubhai Vakharia is more measured in his assessment. “We are doing job work of textile traders, who send grey cloth to us for getting it dyed and printed. We are also coming under 5 per cent GST slab. There are over 350 textile processing houses in the city. Our processing house has enough stock, and there is nothing to worry for our industry. The textile traders are on strike, we know. We hope that some possible solution will come out in coming days,” says Vakharia.