Lakhs of sweet shops across the state remained shut on Monday, following a 24-hour strike called by Paschim Banga Mistanna Byabsayee Samiti, demanding the rollback of the 5 per cent Goods and Service Tax (GST) on sweets. “We have received immense response from sweet sellers across the state. Almost all sweet shops downed their shutters. We do not have the infrastructure to cope up with the new tax regime. Government kept paneer and other perishable items out of GST but imposed 5 per cent GST on sweets,” said Jagannath Ghosh, the Joint Secretary of Paschim Banga Mistanna Byabsayee Samiti, Kolkata unit.
“It is not possible for sweet sellers to file so many returns. They (Centre) have kept two schemes for us. In one scheme, tax return has to be filed quarterly, and in another we need to file tax return 38 times in one year. We want the government to rollback its decision and keep sweets industry out of GST,” said Ghosh.
According to sweet sellers, the sweets industry registers over Rs 1,000 crore turnover annually, and has about 10 lakh employees. In one day’s strike, the industry would incur a loss of Rs 10 lakh, they said. According to Ghosh, sweet sellers also plan to intensify their protest and sit for a relay hunger strike from August 24 to September 26.
“We have paid VAT on raw materials, but there has been no tax on sweets, and we want the government to understand the core matters of our industry. Those who sell sweets are not computer-friendly, and it is a headache for them to file tax returns. Is it possible to give a printed bill to each customer for one rosogulla or one sandesh?” asked a sweet seller.
GST on sweets will also increase cost of the product, which will be an extra burden for customers. “Here in Bengal, we don’t need occasions to buy sweets. Having sweets is like a daily affair for us. An increase in its cost will definitely affect us,” said Rita Bhattacharya, a housewife. Most of the sweet shops in the state don’t issue bills to their customers. They sell sweets and pay VAT on raw materials. There has been no tax on sweets for many years. “With GST, we have to keep track of number of items sold and issue bills, for which we need a computer and someone to operate it. The infrastructure we require to pay GST is costly,” added Ram Babu, a sweet shop owner at VIP Road who has been running his shop for the last 20 years.