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Jewellers Call Off Strike; Gold Imports To Rise

The gems and jewellery industry is estimated to have incurred over Rs 25,000 crore loss during the last 18 days of shutdown

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Jewellers called off a 19-day strike late on Saturday after government assured they will not be "harassed" by the excise department in collecting a new tax.

Jewellers from the world's second-biggest gold consumer went on an indefinite strike from the start of March after government reintroduced a 1 per cent excise duty on gold jewellery after four years.

Major jewellery associations, including All India Gems and Jewellery Trade Federation (GJF), India Bullion and Jewellers Association (IBJA) and Gems Jewellery Export Promotion Council decided to call off the strike after meeting Finance Minister Arun Jaitley.

"The excise duty will remain there, but the government has assured us officials from excise department will not harass jewellers," said Mohit Kamboj, president of IBJA.

"It (excise duty) has not been rolled back but our grievances have been taken care of. The Finance Minister has assured us that there will be no 'inspector raj' and we are hopeful of getting a notification in this regard. After long deliberations, all associations agreed to call off the stir," GJF chairman Sreedhar GV said.

The gems and jewellery industry is estimated to have incurred over Rs 25,000 crore loss during the last 18 days. Over 300,000 jewellers from more than 300 associations kept their establishments closed across the country since March 2.

Successive governments have struggled to curb appetite for gold in Asia's third-largest economy, despite the imposition of a 10 per cent import duty in 2013 and other restrictions.

Annual imports of up to 1,000 tonnes of gold, accounting for about a quarter of India's trade deficit, have also prompted the government to launch a scheme to mobilise a pool of more than 20,000 tonnes of the metal in homes and temples.

The government decided to form a committee to address jewellers' concerns, related to implementation of excise duty, Kamboj said, adding the committee will submit its report in 60 days.

The government imposed an excise duty in 2012, but was forced to roll it back after jewellers went on strike.

Jewellery sales in India have fallen since the start of the year due to higher gold prices and as consumers delayed purchases hoping for a cut in import duty in the budget. This has forced importers to offer a discount of up to $53 per ounce to clear inventory.

But Jaitley surprised the market on February 29 by maintaining import duty and imposing excise duty.

"There is lot of pent-up demand. Imports will rise from next week," said a Mumbai-based dealer with a private bullion importing bank.

India's February gold imports dropped to $1.44 billion, from $2.91 billion in January.