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Gods on either side of GST divide.

Date: 12-09-2017
Subject: Gods on either side of GST divide
KOLKATA: A GST schism has sharply divided Bengal's most popular deities — Durga, her four children and Jagaddhatri and Kali — into two groups. On one side of this great divide are Ganesh and his mother, Durga; on the other side are Lakshmi, Kali, Jagaddhatri and Saraswati.

The orders for the Durga idols were taken way back in March, in the pre-GST phase, so the prices that were fixed did not have GST rates attached. The artisans, however, started buying raw materials for the idols only after Rathayatra in July, in the GST regime. Naturally, they had to pay a higher price for every item, but could not add it to the price of the final product. As a result, artisans rue heavy losses this year. They only hope that Kali and Jagaddhatri will step in to save the day. Since they have just begun to take orders for these idols, they are factoring in the price of raw materials while setting the final price.

Most artisans TOI spoke to said the GST relief on finished idols (it has been brought down from 12% to 0) is only eating more into their profits, since the benefit is just for the buyer. They lamented that the season of losses started with the just-finished Ganesh Chaturthi. The trend is likely to continue through Lakshmi Puja.

The problem is that the prices of all raw materials have increased. The price of bamboo, which earlier cost Rs 150- Rs 180 a piece, has gone up to about Rs 250 post-GST; nails now cost Rs 90 a kilo, about Rs 30 dearer; and paint, which used to cost Rs 60 per 200 grams is now Rs 75 for the same amount. "We had to pay a higher rate for clay, straw, bamboo, saris and other decorative items that are needed for idols, and GST was applicable at each step," said K C Paul, who has been an idol-maker for nearly 40 years.

"Instead of Rs 150 per bundle of straw, we had to pay Rs 200 this time. The price was much higher for bamboo, nails and paint, too, because of GST. But since we had taken the orders much before GST, we couldn't transfer our increased payout to the Puja organisers. So, we are having to absorb the losses," he lamented.

"Till the time there is all-round relief in all the items that we have to buy to make an idol, we will remain in a state of limbo. I am making a 30% loss per idol," said China Pal, the idol-maker who broke the Kumartuli glass ceiling. The artisans are aware that the state is trying its best to fight their case in the GST Council, but most fear that such piecemeal relief will not be of any help. China hoped the state government will keep up the pressure so that the raw materials are also exempted from GST. "We have already paid GST in most items, but we cannot increase the price of our idols. We are facing huge losses," said Samatan Pal, a senior artisan.

Retired deputy commissioner of sales tax, J S Ray, who the artisans approached for advice, said: "I will try to garner support for the movement I am trying to build up with the artisans, demanding an overall relief on all items that go into idol-making." GST expert Sanjib Kothari said: "We have written to the GST Council, highlighting the artisans' plight."

Source: timesofindia.indiatimes.com

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