The 39 days-old pan-India jeweller strike continues without respite. India’s gems and jewellery industry, which contributes over 6% to the national economy, is protesting not so much against the imposition of the 1% excise duty on making non-silver jewellery but against the hassles involved while dealing with the excise inspector. Despite the Finance Minister’s assurance that the days of inspector raj are a phenomenon of the past, jewellers are in no mood to relent. “We, however, are quite optimistic about Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s dexterity in solving complicated issues,” says Praveen Goel, president, All India Bullion, Jewellers and Swarankar Federation (AIBJSF). “Failing which we may be forced to explore legal options as we are rattled by the re-imposition of ‘inspector raj’, which is a legacy the PM promised to end during his reign,” he adds. India’s gems and jewellery industry, which employs millions of skilled and semi-skilled artisans, has already suffered a “business loss of over Rs 1 lakh crore during the period of the ongoing strike,” says Goel. Some, however, quantify the loss at over Rs 6 lakh crore. The pain among buyers is no less acute. As gold is an integral part of Indian weddings, the ongoing strike is causing a lot of hassle to buyers and threatening to destroy age-old social relationships that jewellers had built with their patrons.
What has irked jewellers even more is the requirement that such excise would be collected from the jewellers by dubbing them as principal manufacturers. Praveen Khandelwal, president, Confederation of All India Traders, believes that excise is levied on manufacturing of products by machinery whereas jewellery is made by hand and is seen as a part of the handicraft industry. It is not the first time that jewellers have gone on strike against the imposition of excise duties. Such a duty was imposed in 2005 and again in 2012. On both occasions, the government had to relent in favour of the striking jewellers.