Following the footsteps of the textile industry, sweet shops in Bengal are set to go on a strike on August 21, protesting against 5 per cent Goods and Services Tax (GST) being levied on sweets.Sweet shops owners maintained they are yet to implement the new tax regime and are still charging old rates from their customers. Moreover, they claimed that as the sweet industry is a part of the unorganised sector, most shops don’t have the infrastructure to deal with the complexity of GST.
The general secretary of Pachim Banga Mishtanna Vyavsaye Samiti — a state body of sweet traders — Rabin Pal, said: “Around 20 years ago, Chief Minister Jyoti Basu had lifted sales tax on sweets. About eight years ago, sweets were brought under ambit of VAT. After we protested, the government lifted VAT too. At present, there is no tax on sweets.”
“The government has not imposed GST on milk products like paneer. But as soon as you use paneer to make sweets, we have to pay GST. This is a problem because most sweets in Bengal are made of chhana. We will be on strike on August 21 and for the next two days, we will wait for the government’s stand. If there is no action from the government’s side, we will go for a three-day strike from August 24, which may also be a hunger strike,” he added.
According to shopowners, over 7,000 shops in Kolkata and about a lakh across Bengal will be on strike.
Not only sweets, shops selling snacks like kachori and samosas are too up in arms against the government.
“We have learnt that the government has imposed 12 per cent GST on such items. If we pay GST, what will we be left with?” asked Rajiv Desai, a roadside snacks and sweet seller.
“We have written several letters to the Centre. There is confusion over GST. The government has to understand the industry… it has levied 5 per cent GST on all sweets. We deal with highly perishable items, which has a lifeline of 12 to 18 hours. A large number of sweet sellers in Bengal are illiterate and don’t have the required infrastructure. How will they cope up with the new tax regime?” asked Jagannnath Ghosh, secretary (Kolkata unit) of Pachim Banga Mishthanno Vyavsaye Samiti.