Several textile traders, who had come out in support of an indefinite bandh against Goods and Services Tax (GST), were injured in police lathicharge in Surat Monday. Police detained five protesters who were released later. Earlier in the day, the traders had come out in thousands on the city’s Ring Road, chanting slogans, in support of the bandh called by GST Sangharsh Samiti against five per cent GST on textiles. A huge police force was deployed to avoid any untoward incident.
The GST Sangharsh Samiti, formed under the umbrella of Federation of Surat Textile Traders Association (FOSTTA), had called for the indefinite strike from Saturday till their demand was met. Over 70,000 traders of Surat have been agitating for the last one week. The FOSTTA had also met Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and Deputy Chief Minister Nitin Patel, requesting them to roll back the GST on textiles.
But on Monday, some of the traders opened their shops following a meeting by Surat Navsari MP C R Patil on Sunday evening. He had assured them that their demands would be put before the competent authorities. However, not a single member of FOSTTA or GST Sangharsh Samithi, was present in the meeting. Only those from two newly-formed groups South Gujarat Textile Traders Association and Vepari Pragati Sangh were present. Sanjay Jagnanai, former president of FOSTTA was also present.
The BJP leader had asked the traders to open their shops from Monday and requested Surat Police Commissioner Satish Sharma to provide them protection. Sources said that around 1,000 traders reached the silk city market on Monday morning and forced the owners — those who opened their shops — to shut them. Some of the agitators allegedly manhandled one Sanjay Jagnani of Vepar Pragati Mandal, following which all the shops were shut down.
The group was stopped by Surat police near Surat Textile market and five were detained. However, a larger group had gathered 50 m away at Millennium Textile Market. They demanded release of the traders, which led to an altercation with the police.
Surat Police Commissioner Sharma said a group of traders had approached them, requesting protection as they wanted to keep their shops open. “Today (Monday) morning, we had provided police security outside the Millennium Textile Market. There was a large group of traders gathered both inside and outside the market. They just asked those outside not to create traffic jam on the Ring Road. Meanwhile, some notorious elements from the group pelted stones on policemen, as a result we had to resort to lathicharge.”
He added they have registered a case of rioting against unidentified persons. “Earlier they were agitating within the market premises peacefully. We have requested the traders not to come out on roads.”Former FOSTTA president Attar Singh was also one of the victims. The situation has been brought under control. N M Kanjaria, Assistant Commissioner of Police, C Division, Surat, said they will arrest the accused soon.
The GST Sangharsh Samiti again met in the evening to decide the future course of action. Manoj Agrawal of FOSTTA said the textile traders were protesting non-violently. “They had not damaged any public property or taken law in their hands. The police lathicharge has worsened the situation. Many traders, including elderly, were injured.”
Rajesh Agrawal, a core committee member of GST Sangharsh Samiti, said, “Seeing anger among the traders, we had called for an indefinite strike. With police aid on Monday, some of them opened their shops. But a larger section is angry. The traders are businessmen, not criminals.”