• Shops shut since Mar. 2 to protest proposed excise tax
  • `It's murder both ways' whether shops open or closed

A jewelers’ strike in India, the world’s biggest gold consumer after China, to oppose a proposed excise tax has extended into its third week as the industry intensified protests by conducting rallies Thursday in the capital, New Delhi.

Bullion stores have been shut since Mar. 2 to protest an excise levy of 1 percent on ornaments produced and sold in India. The deadlock between industry and government continues with no end in sight, according to jewelers.

“The stores are closed because the excise is impossible to absorb,” Mehul Choksi, chairman of Gitanjali Gems Ltd., said by phone from Mumbai. “It’s murder both ways for us, whether we keep shops open or closed, so we prefer this way.”

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley announced the levy on jewelry in his Feb. 29 budget as part of the government’s efforts to boost revenues. The strike threatens to be the longest ever shutdown after a similar closure in 2012 for three weeks was successful in getting the government to drop plans for an excise duty. Jewelers are estimated to be losing about $150 million a day, according to the All India Gems & Jewellery Trade Federation.

“Even though the wedding season demand is approaching, jewelers have made up their minds to continue to protest until the government acts on our demands,” Ketan Shroff, spokesman for the India Bullion and Jewellers Association Ltd., said by phone from Mumbai. “So far the government has not shown any willingness to roll back the duty. We are hoping the rally in Delhi will make a difference.”

Wedding gift demand will pick up from May to June, according to Choksi of Gitanjali, which sells its diamond and gold jewelry at more than 4,000 retail outlets across India, the U.S., the Middle East and Europe. Gold is considered an auspicious ornament for praising deities in India and is a traditional gift at family events.

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