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Indian jewelers sustain heavy losses in tax protest

NEW DELHI -- The Indian jewelry industry has sustained a loss of around 300 billion rupees ($4.5 billion) during a 3-week long strike to protest government plans to re-introduce a controversial excise tax on gold articles.

     Jewelers across the country launched the strike on Mar. 2 against a proposed 1% excise duty announced by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley on Feb. 29 in his national budget for the year from April.

     Industry leaders called the tax "impractical", and said it would particularly hurt small traders.

     The All India Gems and Jewelry Trade Federation, the Gems and Jewelry Export Promotion Council, and the All India Bullion and Jewelers Association were among entities that agreed to call off the strike over the weekend after the government assured them it would look into their grievances. But others have continued with an indefinite shutdown.

     "The entire manufacturing industry is very upset," G.V Sreedhar, chairman of All India Gems and Jewelry Trade Federation told the Nikkei Asian Review. "They want a complete rollback of the excise tax immediately."

     Sreedhar estimated industry losses at 250-300 billion rupees, and government losses at 30-35 billion rupees. He said the industry is worth 3.5-trillion rupees annually, and employs 10 million people directly and 60 million indirectly. The excise tax was previously announced in 2005 and 2012, but withdrawn both times after protests.

     India imports up to 1,000 tons of gold each year, and is among the world's top consumers of the precious metal which is used to bring luck and adorn brides, and for savings. More than 20,000 tons of gold are reported to have been hoarded away unproductively in Indian households, and the government has pressed a monetization initiative.

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