Exempt handicrafts from GST, Lokesh urges Seetharaman

Amaravati, March 5 (Maxim News): TDP national general secretary Nara Lokesh on Saturday urged Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitaraman to ease burden on weavers and artisan communities by exempting handicrafts from the GST regime.

In a letter to the Union Finance Minister here, Lokesh stressed the need for the Union government to seriously consider exempting the handloom sector from GST altogether in the upcoming GST Council Meeting. It was pertinent to protect the country’s textile heritage by providing subsidies and by removing unbearable burdens on weavers and artisans.

Lokesh said in Andhra Pradesh, over 65 lakh people were dependent on the handloom sector directly or indirectly. There were about 3.3 lakh handlooms in the State, with 16 lakh weavers, spinners, and workers involved in the trade. Since independence, no government has levied taxes on this sector till now. Lokesh told Sitaraman that in 2017, when the GST rates were first imposed on textiles, the then TDP government urged the Centre against such a move. It was distressing to note that these taxes were only sought to be increased now. Added to this burden was the additional 25% tax being imposed on raw materials such as colours, chemicals and thread. Such a tax regime would destroy the country’s indigenous textile sector altogether.

Lokesh pointed out that there have already been demands from other States, especially Telangana and Tamil Nadu, to waive this tax altogether or keep it unchanged at 5%. As the carriers of our storied handloom heritage, India’s weavers and spinners deserve exemption from such a destructive tax regime. All steps should be taken to ensure their meaningful recovery. He said the Andhra Pradesh’s contribution to the storied textile heritage of India has been huge and significant. The State contributed to unique khadi and handloom traditions and also used this heritage while taking part in the freedom struggle. Gandhiji was struck by the delicate warp and weft of Ponduru khadi when he visited Srikakulam in North Andhra.

Nara Lokesh drew attention to the colourful and exuberant sarees of Peddada and Uppada, the wonderful cotton sarees of Mangalagiri, the textiles of Pedana, Srikalahasti, and Dharmavaram, and those of Chirala and Venkatagiri. These were but a few of the many villages and towns across AP with a great heritage of khadi and handloom crafts. Given this history, it falls upon the government to secure the livelihoods of our craftsmen and women.

Lokesh said in the past two years, he had interacted with hundreds of weavers across Andhra Pradesh. A constant complaint from most of them was how the state government oversaw a drastic cutback of subsidies, welfare benefits, loan support, thrift fund interest rates, and buying of their products through APCO (Andhra Pradesh State Handloom Weavers Cooperative Society).

The TDP MLC said the textile-making communities were being further threatened with the prospects of increased GST rates. Most textile making units, especially in the handloom sector, are small. Their profit margins tend to be low, between 2-5% on average. This is an era when calls are being made to encourage indigenous production to decrease carbon footprint.

Lokesh said with higher tax burden and rising input costs, the production and marketing costs for such labour-intensive products would become unmanageable. This becomes especially important now, when weavers have been deeply hurt economically due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The government must recognize their dire situation due to lack of demand and destruction of supply chains. Products worth crores of rupees have remained unsold.

Expressing concern, Lokesh said the weavers’ families had to live on loans for basic necessities and they had to subsist on the mercy of their neighbours. This calls for urgent actions from the government to save our textiles industry, which is one of the biggest employers in the unorganised sector. Increasing tax rates is a step in the opposite direction. (Maxim News)

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