Reduce the high tax on Musical Instruments in India

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 It is the avowed and acknowledged goal of this Government to revive Indian Culture. Today, Indian music is at a crossroads – towards decline and extinction, or towards growth and proliferation. The path it will take depends on the tax burden that is levied on the musical instruments industry. The rates for GST as announced by the Government for common musical instruments such as violin, guitar, keyboard, drums, saxophone, mandolin and the electronic tanpuras, tablas etc are at the HIGHEST RATE OF 28%! How can music survive this stranglehold? Only so-called 'hand-made indigenous instruments' are tax exempt.

Forty years ago, Indian classical music was in the doldrums. There were not enough artisans to make traditional accompanying instruments that are essential for practice of Indian music such as Sur peti, Tanpura, tabla etc. However, over the past 3 to 4 decades, the teaching, practice and performance of Indian music across India as well as abroad has blossomed. This is due to electronic versions of the tanpura, tabla, sur peti etc which enabled mass production of these little boxes that a child can carry on the shoulder. Today, Indian music is part of the school curriculum. Even Government schools in rural areas purchase electronic Indian musical instruments in bulk for the students. The compact size and easy maintenance of these instruments have also helped in spreading Indian classical music across the globe.

Stalwarts like Pt.Ravi Shankar (sitar), Pt Hariprasad Chaurasia, Ustad Amjad Ali Khan, Vid.Veena Doreswamy Iyengar, Dr M Balamuralikrishna, Sri. Lalgudi Jayaraman, Dr.L.Subramaniam, Begum Parween Sultana, Pt Jasraj and many others have used electronic Indian instruments and appreciated their role in the preservation of Indian classical music.

Importantly, a recent judgment of the Hon. Karnataka High Court (WIP no 16825 of 2011) ruled that Electronic versions of Indian musical instruments should be taxed on par with traditional Indian musical instruments. The relevant extract from the Judgement is as follows:

“A direction is issued to the assessing authorities to assess tax on the musical instruments manufactured by the petitioner under section 4(1)(a)(ii) read with entry 50 of the Third Schedule to the KVAT act”. (Entry 50 is that of traditional Indian musical instruments).

Further, the Hon. Supreme Court of India concurred with this judgment and disallowed the appeal of the Government of Karnataka against it.

Stalwarts like Kadri Gopalnath (saxophone), the late U Srinivas (Mandolin), Prasanna (Guitar) have played Indian classical music on these ‘Western’ instruments and made them our own. We even have young artists playing classical music on the keyboard. Many children learn violin, keyboard, guitar etc and play Indian music on them. Unfortunately, because of the prohibitive taxes, these instruments are being imported from China, and not manufactured in India. School bands use wind instruments like trumpet, saxophone etc for training children. The patriotic songs played by children’s bands during the Republic day parade use these instruments. Tomorrow, schools may abandon the idea of teaching music because of the prohibitive taxes on these musical instruments.

The Government talks of ‘Make in India’.

How can we make India a manufacturing hub if manufacturing becomes unviable?

Why do only ‘hand-made indigenous’ musical instruments qualify for tax exemption?

Do we want to continue importing violins and guitars from China and boost the Chinese economy?

Do we not want to make thousands of violins and guitars and export them to the world?

Can we do this by making them by hand?

It is only by standardization and mechanization that we can hope to compete with China. The way to achieve Make in India is through mass production, mechanization and automation and not by regressing to hand-manufacture. Imposing a punitive 28% GST is not the way to encourage Make in India. Government on the one hand says ‘Digital India’ and on the other, imposes 28% GST on digital musical instruments! Is this fair? GST at 28% is imposed on luxury goods. Is Indian music and culture a luxury now? Musical instruments are not luxury goods.

The Government talks of preservation of Indian Culture.

How can we do this if the only recognized, National-Award-winning MSME designing and manufacturing electronic Indian Musical Instruments is punished with 28% GST on its products?

How can we do this thousands of children stop learning music in schools because electronic tanpura and tabla are too expensive and there are not enough traditional artisans to make hand-made versions?

How can we do this if people stop playing and performing music because instruments for practice and other common instruments such as violin and keyboard have become too costly?

Why the distinction between ‘indigenous hand-made musical instruments’ and others? If, in the hope of improving the hand-made harmonium, a manufacturer uses mechanization, why should this be punished with a 28% tax?

Why not just classify all musical instruments under one category of MUSICAL INSTRUMENTS and either exempt them or charge a low rate of tax? Surely the revenue loss to the Government would be negligible.

We sincerely and earnestly appeal to the GST council members and the Finance Minister to reconsider the unjust and punitive luxury tax rate of 28% GST on all musical instruments other than ‘indigenous hand-made musical instruments’, and bring the tax rate on par with the indigenous hand-made musical instruments. The entire music community will stand to benefit by such a decision. The simple act of exempting or lowering the tax on these products will help preserve Indian culture through its music.

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