Traders spring GST trade-off


New Delhi, April 5: A traders’ conclave has decided to back the Narendra Modi government on the GST bill, with conditions, but thrown its weight behind the jewellers’ strike against the one per cent excise duty hike and the mandatory quoting of PAN numbers for purchases exceeding Rs 2 lakh.

The three-day conclave began here yesterday, hosted by the Confederation of All India Traders that includes 40,000 traders’ groups.

The countrywide jewellers’ strike has crossed a month. But resentment against the Modi government has been building up among traders for much longer.

The strike has overshadowed the one budgetary measure the Centre had hoped would be welcomed with open arms by the community: the plan to allow neighbourhood kiranashops to remain open every day till late at night to level the playing field with malls.

It was peddled as a standout decision by Modi in his address to the BJP national executive on March 20 and in a campaign speech at Kharagpur.

But B.C. Bhartia, who heads the traders’ confederation that broadly supports the BJP, said: “Did they assess the social and security impacts of allowing little shops to remain open through the week and until late night? It’s an invite to the anti-social elements to loot and kill at will.”

A Union minister who asked not to be identified said: “This business of law and order will only affect the states in the north. Maharashtra and Gujarat will ensure their shops stay open until late. When their businesses do well, the other states will have to emulate them, provided their governments tone up the law and order infrastructure…. Give them the freedom like the malls and you will see more jobs coming people’s way.”

Another minister said: “Any transition from the old to the new, big or small, is bound to be resented. The increased excise duty on jewellers is perfectly legitimate to flush out black money and make transactions more transparent.”

Traders and retailers have traditionally been considered the BJP’s spine, from the days of its earlier avatar, the Jana Sangh. However, many are now warning the party not to take them for granted.

Anil Kumar Tater, an office-bearer of the Delhi Jewellers’ Association, said, “We have changed our loyalties. Do you think (Arvind) Kejriwal could have got his mandate without our votes?”

Praveen Khandelwal, the confederation secretary general and a former BJP office-bearer, said his support for the GST came with the condition that it would be governed by a single authority and “treat the whole of India as a single market”. Asked if the Centre would hear out his wish list, Khandelwal said: “Tomorrow we are giving a call for a Bharat bandh on the jewellers’ demands. The government will be compelled to talk to us.”


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