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Strike Called Off But Unrest Remains
Jewellers’ Nationwide Strike
By: Diamond World News Service
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Apr 30 2016 10:53AM
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Reference: 12967  

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This time, it was not the government but the jewellers who had to give up and call off strike. In these 42 days, a lot happened. It wasn’t only about monetary loss but also about loss of manpower. Few factors became evident during this struggle and one of the most important is that instead of fragmented leadership, the jewellers’ fraternity needs one unified body to address their grievances. A Special Report by Kavita Parab.

After 42 days of struggle, jewellers have temporarily called off their strike on 12th April 2016 after the government’s assurance that there will be no harassment by excise officials. However, the jewellers have already hinted at another nationwide stir in case their demands are not met.

During the strike, the jewellers not only lost on business worth crores of rupees but also found it difficult to maintain high costs of the showrooms, retaining artisans who went looking for another source of livelihoods. In terms of loss that the jewellers have incurred during the strike, it would take another year for them to recover the losses, says a jeweller on condition of anonymity.

Jewellers took on the roads, conducted rallies, candle marches but government did not budge and was firm on its decision to impose 1 per cent excise duty on non-silver jewellery. Rather FM Arun Jaitley made it clear to the jewellers on strike that the excise duty won’t be rolled back. He said "How can a luxury item remain out of tax when essential items like cement, cloth and many others have to pay manufacturing tax. If we do not bring GST on gold, taxation on other items will have to be increased." Jaitley said the Centre has given a benefit that excise would be similar to VAT on gold and has tried to allay fears that 'karigars' would be affected from the new taxation.

Jewellers were of the opinion that theirs was the community which supported PM Modi during his prime ministerial election campaign. He had supported the community in the past, while he was Gujarat CM. However, this time the PM did not give into the demands thus upsetting the jewellers’ community. Many of them left the BJP party in order to show their displeasure.

Though the jewellers tried to show their unity while on strike, the cracks in their unity and difference of opinion were quite evident. For eg: When on March 18, strike was called off, the jewellers’ fraternity questioned the associations and trade bodies’ involvement in the decision and refused to follow the decision. Even the leadership of some of the leading jewellery associations and trade bodies were questioned and criticized heavily for being the supporters of the ruling BJP party for their own interest and ignoring their brethren’s best interests.

Even in some parts of the country, the jewellers did not take part in the strike and continued their business, which showed the cracks in the unity and absence of one unified authority for the jewellers’ community. Some of the jewellers reopened their shops as it was becoming difficult to survive as jewellery shop being their only source of bread and butter. There were also reports of suicides due to loss of livelihood.

In all this hullaballoo, opposition came out to support the jewellers’ full-fledged manner, especially Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal and Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi. However, this time government did not pay any heed to the threats.

Modi government is going strong in its plan to wipe out black money from the country, especially from jewellery and real estate sectors, both being the black money havens. Government has promised that the excise duty would not bring ‘inspector raj’ but would help the sector to become more organised. It would also help government to keep a tab on gold smuggling.

Earlier, jewellery supply chain would not maintain records of a product as a single piece would go through many hands before it was turned into a final product. Now, with impending changes, jewellers fear that their margins would be affected. Compliance cost would certainly rise, which would not be feasible for the small time jewellers. Either they would be pushed out of the business or would have to find alternate means of doing their business.

Any change is never acceptable initially and there is going to be little bit of trouble to adapt to the changes. But if one looks at the larger perspective of the change, then one would understand that it is crucial for growth. We don’t want to get extinct for not accepting change or do we?

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