By Rajnish Singh
Saharanpur, April 10 (IANS) The impact of Goods and Services Tax (GST) and political ignorance about traditional wood carving industry in Saharanpur may play a major role in the Lok Sabha elections in the western Uttar Pradesh constituency where polls are due on Thursday.
The world-renowned wood carving business in Saharanpur is in “dying stage”. Politicians as well as the government, people linked to the occupation claim, have not come up with any assurance or plan to check the trade’s slide.
The annual wood carving industry of Saharanpur was pegged at about Rs 400 crore as it supported the livelihood of about 2 lakh artisans — both Muslims and Hindus.
However, over 60 per cent of artisans, several entrepreneurs in the trade said, have left their occupation and have taken to plying e-rickshaws for their livelihood.
The first major jolt to the business came in July 2014 when communal riots broke out over a piece of land.
After the riots that claimed three lives, the district administration clamped curfew. Goods containers were stranded on the outskirts of the city for over a fortnight. Several export orders were cancelled, recall residents.
Exports form a substantial part of the total economy of the wood carving industry. The main export destinations are the US, Europe, Brazil, Canada, China, Singapore, Sweden and Kuwait.
The manufacturers suffered substantial losses post demonetisation on November 8, 2016. A new tax regime that was implemented on July 1, 2017 deadlt a blow to the industry because maximum transactions related to the trade were done in cash.
Mohammad Javed, an entrepreneur, told IANS that the trade is based on credits and it got disrupted after the GST implementation.
“After the 2014 riots, the craft business suffered huge losses. As we tried to recover, came demonetisation and the GST, completely paralysing the industry. Today banks are not extending loans to our business. Saharanpur has Over 3.5 lakh voters. Over 70 per cent of Muslim population and 30 per cent of Hindus were in the occupation.
“Most of them have left the job and shifted to other works. The BJP candidate never came to us in the last five years. No one is there to hear our problems. So, we have decided to vote for Congress which has supported our business,” Javed said.
Abuzar Wood Carving owner Azhar Hassan said he has been dealing in both the domestic market and in exports and currently he is having a lot of problems in both.
“Since the implementation of GST, foreign demands have gone down as businessmen don’t want to pay extra amount due to confusion in the tax structure. Many foreign customers have facilitated employment to several artisans living in the city. We are doing business on the basis of local demands. It is becoming increasingly difficult to meet even basic expenditure,” said the 56-year-old businessman.
Mohammad Yunus, a handicraft artisan, said most like him have left the occupation and started plying battery-operated rickshaws.
“The business is in dying stage. I am in the occupation since 1948 and never thought that the trade would go through such a bad patch. Only Congress can do justice now,” said Yunus.
Mehboob, a teacher and resident of Sheikhpura village, told IANS that there was no major employment avenue in the area.
There were over 10,000 micro handicraft units in Saharanpur district and about 100 organised factories, which largely catered to the export market. “The situtation is now changed”, said Rahul Joshi, a fire safety worker, adding several factories and units have shut shop.
(Rajnish Singh can be contacted at [email protected])