It's the petty textile traders who are facing the heat of the anti-VAT strike. Reeling under mounting losses owing to the ongoing shutdown, these traders in Sultan Bazaar and Badi Chowdi decided to open their shutters on Republic Day hoping for a partial recovery of the losses they suffered in the last three days.
A huge black cloth banner across the entrance of Badi Chawdi, however, remained in its place. "We have tried to open the shutters in the morning everyday, but were forced to bring them down by other traders from Abids. But now we have decided to do business against all odds," said a trader who runs a modest business in Badi Chowdi.
Another trader from Begum Bazaar, who also decided to keep the shutters up after the third day shutdown, on conditions of anonymity said, "We understand their need to stand up against the government's decision, but is this the way? The big shops can afford to do this, but what about small time traders like us? And anyway, the VAT will be imposed only on businesses that have an annual turnover of over Rs 40 lakh. For those whose margin is between Rs 5 and Rs 40 lakh, they have to pay 1% turnover tax. For people like us whose turnover is below 4%, there is no tax at all. Then why can't we keep our shops open?"
Several traders from Sultan Bazaar echo his sentiments. Most of the dress material cum tailoring shops are keeping their shutters down out of pressure from the trader's union, but their work is continuing inside the shops.
Putting up a brave face, Ravi Agarwal from Vishal Matching Centre said, "It was a very successful strike for the last three days and it will continue till the government gives in to our demands. Today is an exception. It is a holiday for all, so we are expecting a decent footfall."
With the ongoing Numaish already splitting their customer base, the Old City textile traders are caught in a cleft stick. Meanwhile, vendors have lined up in front of the closed shutters across this part of the city. "This is our chance," says a bedsheet seller near Madina, grabbing the opportunity to give a grand display to his wares across the closed shutters of a high-end clothes shop. Says Iqbal, owner of a readymade clothes store, "We are not a part of the strike in any way. Readymade clothes always had their share of tax. But publicity regarding the strike has affected our business adversely."
While a section of the traders rue the strike, some stand firm. Explaining the VAT system, Ravi Agarwal says, "With VAT we will have to bear an additional 20% tax." If calculated keeping all transactions of the merchandise, the levy would be much more, he says. As one walked to the other side of the Old City, Agarwal's determination translated into action. A stroll through the otherwise buzzing Patel Market on Thursday afternoon elicited only one stray comment, "Bandh hai."