GST on garba: Opp voices get louder, Ramesh calls it ‘Garba Samapth Tax’

The voices in the opposition parties, demanding withdrawal of 18 per cent Goods and Services Tax (GST) imposed on garba events, grew louder on Thursday with Rajya Sabha Congress MP Jairam Ramesh taking to Twitter, calling it “Garba Samapth Tax”.

Ramesh’s tweet came a day after the Vadodara city unit of the Congress protested the imposition of 18 per cent GST by playing garba on the campus of the Vadodara District Collectorate and submitted a memorandum.

Navratri garba — nine nights of dance as an obeisance to Goddess Ambe — is one of the most awaited festivals in Gujarat with revellers and devotees booking passes to garba venues months in advance.

When the United Way of Baroda (UWB) opened its registrations last week, patrons were taken aback to see a sharp rise in the registration fee that was “inclusive of 18 per cent GST”. While male participants have to pay Rs 4,838 this year, females will have to pay Rs 1,298. A few other garba organisers who issue passes against a fee, are yet to announce if ticket prices are inclusive of GST.

Board members of UWB, an NGO, which uses the “funds” received from garba passes for social causes, said the decision followed a discussion with GST officials after the previous garba festivities held in 2019. In 2020 and 2021, garbas were not organised due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Minesh Patel, treasurer and trustee of UWB, said, “After the previous public garba in 2019, the officials of the tax departments had conducted inspections of GST records of a few other garba organisers… During that time they pointed out that issuing passes or identity cards for a fee or against an invoice would automatically make it liable for GST. To comply with the taxation laws, we have added GST this year.”

UWB added that garba organisers never considered garbas as an “entertainment event” to levy GST. “We pay GST for food stalls and other services used for garba but until 2019, the actual passes were never meant for commercial sale…” Patel said, even as UWB expressed its inability to exempt players from the tax.
Hemant Shah, chairman of the Resource Development Committee of UWB, said, “Since GST was introduced in 2017, garba events were not included under any specific slabs. UWB is an NGO and the money received from passes is meant to be a ‘donation’, which is diverted for social causes. For us, the garba is not a commercial activity. At the same time, we cannot pay the tax and exempt the players because 18 per cent is a huge amount.”

On Thursday, Jairam Ramesh said, “There are protests happening in Gujarat over the implementation of 18 per cent GST — Garba Samapth Tax — on a cultural event that is the identity of Gujarat. What can be a more foolish decision that this?”

The Vadodara Congress unit, which staged a protest at the District Collector’s office on Wednesday by playing garba, demanded immediate revision of the decision.
Likening the GST on garba to the “Jizya” imposed on Hindu pilgrims during the Mughal regime, Gujarat Pradesh Congress Committee spokesperson Manish Doshi told this newspaper, “The British later imposed the salt tax on Indians, so this is a third instance, where the ruling party has imposed GST on garba and hurt sentiments of Hindus. Despite calling itself the protector of Hindus, the BJP has been exploiting human psychology to orchestrate a systematic loot.”
Claiming that Jizya brought the downfall of Mughals and salt tax ended the British regime in India due to the revolution led by Mahatma Gandhi, Doshi said, “Similarly, this 18 per cent GST will bring an end to the BJP.”

Following the uproar, the BJP will “try to take the credit” for reversing the tax, Doshi said, adding, “The BJP is a diabolical two-faced party… They have imposed the Gabbar tax on Garba and now their leader will declare that garba has been made tax-free and try to make people sway emotionally.”

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Some of the BJP leaders have also decided to pursue the matter. A senior elected representative from Vadodara said, “GST on garba has come as a surprise… While the opposition is taking full advantage of the situation, many leaders within the party have also sought time with the chief minister to see if garba can be exempted from GST.”

On Wednesday, Cabinet Minister Jitu Vaghani said that the opposition was “misleading” the people over the issue of GST on garba as “all entertainment events are under GST purview”.

On Wednesday, AAP workers held protests in Vadodara and Surat city with garba performances on the streets, which led to their detention by police.

“People of Gujarat are very angry. The BJP formed the government with the blessings of Hindus and now the government wants to earn money by imposing tax on garba, which is a Hindu tradition and the identity and pride of Gujarat. BJP wants to destroy Gujarat’s identity…,” alleged senior Congress leader Amit Chavda.

Gopal Italia, president of Gujarat AAP, shot a letter to Chief Minister Bhupendra Patel demanding withdrawal of GST on garba events.

“People are attached to garba as it is a matter of our faith… There was never a tax on worshiping our gods. We condemn this act by the BJP and demand immediate withdrawal of this tax,” said Italia.

(With pti)

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