Close to a hundred representatives of various sweetmeat makers from across West Bengal began a three-day relay hunger strike here on Friday to protest the imposition of Goods and Services Tax (GST). The strike coincides with the occasion of Ganesh Chaturthi, a day when sweets from ‘barfi’ to ‘modaks’ are in high demand.
The hunger-strike comes days after a state-wide strike by sweet manufacturers against the new tax regime.
“Irrespective of our products being high on demand for Ganesh Chaturthi, we have all gathered here in the city to protest against GST. There are people from districts like Malda, Howrah and Birbhum,” West Bengal Mistanna Byabasayee Samity’s General Secretary R.K. Paul told in an exclusive interview.
Iconic sweet-makers K.C. Das, whose erstwhile owner Nabin Chandra Das is widely regarded as the inventor of the rosogolla in 1868, said they are also pitching in the hunger strike.
“I am going there myself and we will be there for the next two days,” K.C. Das’s Director Dhiman Das said.
While the industry is directly responsible for the livelihoods of at least 10 lakh people, Paul said, there is no estimate of those living off the business indirectly.
Elaborating on their opposition to GST, he said the Rs 50,000 crore industry in Bengal is “hugely different” from the sweet-making ventures in other states, in terms of the products being “highly perishable”, a category exempted from the new tax regime.
“We deal with highly perishable goods. Our sweets are very delicate and have a shelf life of only 24 hours. In other states, the kind of sweets they produce is different and can stay on for longer. We were exempted from VAT. The Centre has exempted highly perishable goods from GST. We don’t understand why they included our sweets in GST if they are highly perishable,” Paul said.
Confectioners said what has added to their woes is that their products fall under all slabs — 28 per cent for any sandesh/sweet with chocolate in it, five per cent for rosogolla and sandesh, and 12 per cent for mishti doi.
In addition to the evergreen traditional recipes of rosogolla, mishti doi and sandesh, Bengal sweetmeat makers have adapted to modern tastes by incorporating ingredients like chocolates, fruit pulps like those of mangoes, kiwis and blueberries and extending their repertoire with innovations like ice-cream sandesh and kulfi sandesh.