New Delhi, March 17: Thousands of jewellers, bullion traders and artisans today held a mega rally at Ram Lila ground in the national capital to protest against the Budget proposal of imposing 1 per cent excise duty on non-silver jewellery and vowed to continue their strike indefinitely.
In support of the rally, the wholesale market in the national capital also observed a 'bandh' as more than 7,000 shops remained closed.
Members of over 358 associations, consisting of over three lakh manufacturers, retainers, wholesalers and artisans related to the trade are on strike since March 2, which entered the 16th day today.
"Jewellers will continue their strike indefinitely, if the government does not rollback its proposal to impose excise duty," All India Gems and Jewellery Trade Federation (GJF) President G V Sreedhar told PTI. He added that instead of imposing excise duty, the government can increase import duty on gold by 1 per cent.
"The excise duty was proposed to be imposed in 2005 and 2012, but both times, the government had to roll back," he said. GJF, the apex body of jewellers, supported the rally called by an another association All India Bullion Jewellers & Swarnkar Action Committee (AIBJS).
Sreedhar added that similar rallies will be organised in the all the state capitals in coming days. "The jewellery industry is paying around Rs 30,000 crore tax annually to the exchequer. And as much as one crore people are directly employed and six crore indirectly. Despite this the government is imposing excise duty on us," AIBJS Executive Member Praveen Goel said.
He added that artisans will be the worst affected if this duty is imposed. Echoing similar views, All India Sarafa Association Vice- President Surinder Kumar Jain said, "The imposition of excise duty will bring back inspector raj." Delhi-based South Extension Jewellers Association also joined the rally.
GJF has said gems and jewellery sector has been bleeding following the bandh, which has caused a loss of almost Rs 20,000 crore to the industry. Replying to a debate in Lok Sabha on the Budget, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley had rejected the demand for rolling back the levy, saying the move is in preparation for unveiling of Goods and Services Tax (GST).