Post GST in Surat the anger spilled on to the streets. Traders called for a 22-day strike in July, took out a massive protest march and didn’t celebrate Diwali, calling it a black festival for them.
“The business is down by 40%. We are suffering losses,” says Manoj Agarwal, president of the Federation of Surat Textile Traders Association that represents Surat’s 165 textile markets.
“Our problem is that we have to spend time filing returns. The trader has to focus on his business because in textiles you have to constantly come up with something new for consumers. We also have to give credit, up to three months. That is also getting affected”.
“Even a small trader has to file three returns in a month. They can’t afford keeping an accountant. Servers are slow and filing returns online is tedious,” says Jagnani. “In our estimate, about 30% small and medium businessmen will shut shop if things don’t improve.” Even the upcoming wedding season has failed to buoy orders and sentiment, he rues.
The annual turnover of the textile industry in Surat is around 400 crore and it employs more than a million people. Traders say they were not badly affected by the government’s shock recall of high-value banknotes last year because they mostly deal in credit.
Surat is home to around 65,000 traders, mostly Patidars, who have supported the BJP for generations but resorted to violent agitations two years ago to demand quotas in jobs and education.
It was the problems in GST that hit them hard. Thought BJP government after 5 months has responded with slashing the rates for some goods, extending filing deadlines and simplifying processes.
But many traders say they are still angry. “90% of the textile traders were with the BJP. The government is responding now because there are elections and the ruling party is rattled. If the government doesn’t accept our demands, the traders will consider other options. They are forcing us to do that,” says Agarwal.
Five of Surat district’s 12 assembly seats can be influenced by textile traders. In the 2012 elections, the BJP won all 12 seats. This time, traders warn, there could be surprises for the party.