In a passionate plea directed to Prime Minister Modi, noted theatre personality and activist Prasanna urged the Goods and Services Tax (GST) council to reduce tax on handmade products to zero. He was speaking at a press conference organised by the Grama Seva Sangha in Bengaluru on the sixth day of the activist’s hunger strike against the taxation.
Pointing out that GST does not define handmade products, Prasanna urged the GST council to make the distinction between a machine-made product and a handmade product. “When there is such a disparity between the person who makes plastic goods and the person who makes handmade clay goods, why is it not reflected in the tax paid?,” asked the noted activist.
Currently, handmade products are taxed at 5% GST. “They (GST council) should acknowledge their mistake and rectify it immediately as you are taxing the rural poor,” he added.
Prasanna is no stranger to hunger strikes. Three years ago, he did a similar fast in the textile hub of Gajendragad in Gadag district of Karnataka demanding facilities and support for the handloom sector.
This time around, Prasanna commenced the hunger strike following a padayatra from Junjappanagudde in Sira Taluk of Tumakuru district to Arsikere in Hassan district to spread awareness of the impact of GST on businesses in rural areas.
Under pressure from the movement started by the Grama Seva Sangha to achieve zero per cent tax on handmade goods, Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah wrote to Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, requesting him to take up the issue of GST implemented in handmade products.
Even as Siddaramaiah wrote to Jaitley, the movement dubbed “Tax Denial Satyagraha”, garnered support from noted personalities including Prakash Raj, Justice Gopal Gowda among others. There is a change.org petition titled 'Tax Denial Satyagraha on Handmade Products' which has garnered over 1,300 signatures.
Siddaramaiah followed Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik in raising the issue of GST implemented on handmade products.
The protest by Grama Seva Sangha comes at a time when a rising number of groups are protesting the tax reform. Industrialists in Ludhiana, truckers’ in Tamil Nadu, and now handcraft artisans from Karnataka are leading protests against the controversial tax that came into effect in July this year.
How does GST affect artisans who make handmade goods?
Krishna Heggodu, part of the Desi Trust, was a peripheral part of the press conference, called to protest the taxation on handmade products. Heggodu did not face the cameras nor did he answer questions. But he was present to silently register his displeasure at the tax regime that saw the trust’s business drop 10-15% this year. The Desi Trust based in Heggodu in Shimoga sells handloom garments, bags, homemade pickle, among other items. “In the past, saree, fabric were exempted from tax but now tax on garments costing over Rs. 1,000 is 12%. Also, the tax on bags has gone up from 5.5% to 18%”, he elaborated.
“A handcrafted garment takes two days to make and involves the entire family of the artisan making it, while a person operating a power loom can make four garments in a day. How is it fair to ask both to pay the same tax?, ” asked Heggodu.
The movement by the Grama Seva Sangha aims to empower entrepreneurs like Krishna Heggodu and give a boost to the rural economy . A committee headed by sociologist Ashish Nandy has also developed a definition of handmade products and listed around 200 such products that should not be taxed by the regime.
Speaking at a rally in Gujarat earlier this week, PM Modi said that the Congress was an “equal partner” in bringing GST to the country. CM Siddaramaiah has written to the Finance Minister about reducing taxes on handmade products, just before the next GST council meeting in Guwahati on November 10.