Most eateries and chemist shops were shut today in the southern states of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Kerala and Puducherry in protest against GST tax rates and online sale of medicines. Thousands of travelling people in these states were inconvenienced as hotels, restaurants and other eateries downed shutters in response to the dawn-to-dusk call given by various state bodies and supported by South Indian Hotels and Restaurants Association (SIHRA). SIHRA said recent developments and policies belied the importance of the hotel industry. “Policy makers have failed to recognise this industry as one of the largest employment generators and net foreign exchange earners,” it said in a statement in Chennai.
The association said it had asked member bodies to join the strike. A report from Puducherry said most hotels and medical shops remained closed. Calling the shutdown “successful”, Bruhat Bangalore Hotels Association President B Chandra Shekar Hebbar said most hotels and restaurants closed. He said the association had never called for a bandh and they had continued business despite various issues. “The one day shutdown will not inconvenience customers, because we are doing this in the customer’s larger interests, as the rates will have an impact on their pockets,” he said.
SIHRA also staged a protest in the city, demanding the rates be reduced. However, Karnataka State Hotel Owners Association, the state-level body, did not support the shutdown, resulting in business being usual in other parts of the state. There are about 3,000 registered hotels or restaurants in Bengaluru. Most chemists in Bengaluru and other parts of Karnataka also shut shop today in support of the nationwide shutdown called by All India Organisation of Chemists and Druggists in protest against ‘stringent’ rules in sale of medicines.
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Chemists also staged a demonstration in Bengaluru. In Tamil Nadu, nearly two lakh hotels, tea shops, bakeries and medical shops downed shutters. “This is an essential commodity. Not a luxury. We will be ones to suffer the maximum if this (GST tax rates) comes into force,” a top official of Tamil Nadu Hotels Association said. Association President Venkada Subbu said the industry employs about 1 crore people directly and indirectly. Tax levied now ranges from between 0.5 per cent to 2 per cent.
“In the proposed GST, the rates are revised with a minimum of 5 per cent to a maximum of 18 per cent. For star hotels it will vary from 18 per cent to 28 per cent,” he told PTI, adding it would lead to an increase in prices of food items.
The association had already made a representation to the Centre on the issue he said, adding they were hopeful of a positive outcome in next week’s GST Council meeting. If there was no reprieve, they would decide on the next course of action later,” he said. A Coimbatore report said nearly 400 restaurants and 1,000 bakeries and small hotels in Coimbatore and Nilgiris districts downed shutters. Roadside eateries did roaring business. Tamil Nadu Chemists and Druggists Association General Secretary Natarajan said nearly 20,000 of the 30,000 medical shops in the state remained closed. The remaining shops were open, but employees wore black badges in protest.
He opined that if the government was allowing online sale of medicines, it should also provide them the infrastructure so that they could also sell medicines. The association, he said, wanted imprinting of bar code on medicines in line with products sold in supermarkets, which would ensure the cost is the same, whether sold through stockists or through medical shops. “Medical shops also incur hefty electricity charges since some medicines need to be refrigerated 24 hours,” he said.
In Kerala, 90 per cent of the 1 lakh restaurants and bakeries downed shutters, General secretary of the Kerala Hotels and Restaurants Association G Jayapal said.He said that as per the new rules, the government proposed a 5 to 18 per cent tax on different categories of restaurants under the State Value Added Tax Acts. “When the new GST norms comes into force, a restaurant with about Rs 20 lakh monthly revenue will have to pay 5 per cent tax, above Rs 50 lakh monthly revenue 12 per cent tax and air conditioned restaurants 18 per cent,” he said. He said small and medium hotels should not be brought under the GST. A section of medical shops also remained shut in Kerala today.