A day after police lathicharge on protesting textile traders in Surat, cloth shop owners in various parts of Gujarat on Tuesday joined the indefinite strike against five per cent Goods and Services Tax (GST). Besides the textile markets of Surat, which remained shut on Tuesday, the Maskati market in Ahmedabad, a major textile centre in the state, also wore a deserted look as around 25,000-30,000 traders observed a shutdown, protesting “police high- handedness” with agitating traders in Surat. They said the shops will remain shut indefinitely till the time their demands on GST were not met by the government. “Police action on protesters in Surat is unacceptable. Instead of meeting our demands, the government is applying force to suppress us,” said Ritesh Shah, a cloth shop owner in Maskati market.
Surat Police Commissioner Satish Sharma, in a statement issued on Tuesday, called the incident “unfortunate” and assured the traders protection during “peaceful agitation”. “Police was forced to resort to mild caning because there was stone-pelting, in which two policemen were injured,” he said.
Sharma clarified that during a meeting with the textile traders, including members of the Federation of Surat Textile Traders Association (FOSTTA) on Sunday, the police was told that they would open their businesses on Monday. “The traders had demanded police protection stating that nobody should force them to shut their shops. However, contrary to the decision, a large number of textile traders and workers gathered outside Millennium Textile Market, as a result, there was traffic jam-like situation. The police was trying to clear the traffic when somebody from the public pelted stones on police. Police had to resort to mild lathi-charge to bring the situation under control,” said Sharma.
Surat city BJP president Nitin Bhajiyawala met traders and appealed them to maintain peace. He met Attar Singh, the former president of FOSTTA, who was beaten up by the police. Photographs and video of Singh being thrown on floor and thrashed had gone viral on social media. GST Sangharsh Samiti president Tarachand Kasat said the traders were angry over the police lathicharge. “The agitation was peaceful until Monday. We are planning to hold a meeting on Wednesday to discuss the future course of action,” Kasat said.
The ongoing strike is also affecting the other sectors like weaving and power loom. A meeting was held by Federation of Gujarat Weavers Association (FOGWA) on Tuesday to discuss the five per cent GST on the sector. FOGWA president Ashok Jirawala said they decided to take views of the weavers. “We demand no GST on manufacturing sector. Our business had been badly affected due to GST and even many of the power loom factories have reduced their production, as there is no demand in the market due to the ongoing strike of the textile traders.”