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Weird Chronicles of GST – Visual artists under 12% bracket; while sportspersons and actors exempted

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This looks like to be a very weird scenario where Mr. Amitabh Bachchan, who charges ₹ 7 crores for hosting KBC or popular and renowned vocalist Vidushi Kishori Amonkar, who charges ₹ 10 to 12 lakh for a concert are exempted from the goods and services tax (GST) but a visual artist such as a painter, sculptor or printmaker who sell work of their art come under the 12% GST slab.

If let say an artwork is sold for ₹ 1 Lakh, the artists only get about ₹ 35,000 after deductions such as a cost of materials, transport, framing, etc. The GST would reduce this to about ₹ 23,000 now. Under the previous laws, there was no duty on handicraft, which covered art and craft in various forms. Art is an intellectual property that is created by an individual; we believe it is not an industrial product that it should be taxed.

All artists contribute to the society’s intellectual growth and enrich the culture as well. Thus there should not be any discrimination between any artist. Be it the visual artist or a TV artist. Visual artists apparently are few, even if we add all of these, they would not be more than 1 Lakh in total. The entire art industry has been deteriorating from the past one decade between ₹ 500 crores and ₹ 1,000 crores. The best it would offer is approximately ₹ 50-100 crores as tax, which eventually would be like peanuts for the Indian economy.

The art market today is standing strong because of the few known artists such as Amrita Sher Gill, Husain, Sabavala, Tyeb Mehta, Raza, Souza, Rabindranath, and Jamini Roy among others. Their work constitutes amongst 90% of the art market in India today. So if the government is going to levy a heavy tax on the artists, how will they be motivated to join this field of work?

Mr. Akhilesh Kumar, who is a senior artist in Bhopal has started an online petition against the imposition of GST. It is known that thousands of artists have signed the petition, which eventually would be submitted to the government before the next GST council meeting that is scheduled on 28th of September.

Jogen Chowdhary, who himself is an artist, and a Rajya Sabha had member raised the issue with the parliament but to no benefit. As per the GST law, the artwork sold over and above ₹ 20 lakh would qualify for a 12% GST, but the artists have said that art is not sold on a regular basis. So if the artwork is sold for ₹ 5 to 10 lakhs, what would the artists do if on one fine day the sales of art piece cross ₹ 20 lakhs. This issue would arise because the artist as per his or her expectation might not have registered for the GST in advance as he would expect his art to be always sold below ₹ 20 lakhs. Art should not be treated as consumer goods.

Madan Lal, an artist from Chandigarh, was disappointed with this move and felt that he is an artist and not a trader. Now if the galleries are forced to treat the artwork as products, and he is obliged to pay the taxes. Kanchan Chander, who is a Delhi based artist has been left stranded. He held a solo show, but his cheques have been pending because the gallery is still trying to figure out how it is supposed to pay out as a tax out of Gurugram as he is from Delhi. The same has been the issue for him for his payment cheques from Noida as well.

As such the artists have not been doing well and hurdles like these are only going to add misery. They are also paying hefty taxes for various art materials, canvas and paints. The framing of painting itself invites a 28% GST overall.

Usha Gawda, who is a director at Volte Gallery in Mumbai said that if dancers, actors musicians are exempted from the new tax regime then the artists should not be ignored in such a situation. Anuradha Thakur, another artist from Mumbai, has registered and taken up a GST number to be on the safe side. She was of the opinion that if she sells her piece outside India, it would be exempted from the tax but the Indian buyer would be paying more for the domestic art.

If the taxes are not removed, the last traces of the artists’ society that is left in India, will eventually die.

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Anand Narayanaswamy works as a journalist based in Trivandrum, India. After unsuccessfully completing the company secretary course, Anand decided to step into software and technology route. More recently, he had a great interest in exploring about the Goods and Services Tax.

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