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Jewellers call off 21-day strike

New Delhi: Bullion traders and jewellers today called off their 21-day nationwide strike after meeting UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi and Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee who assured them that their demand for rollback of excise duty on unbranded jewellery would be considered.

"We have notified all our members to call off the agitation with immediate effect," Dinesh Jain, Director of Governing Board, All-India Gems and Jewellery Trade Federation, told PTI.

Most of the jewellery shops would open from tomorrow, today being holiday on account of Good Friday. Traders are estimated to have lost Rs 20,000 crore due to the strike which began on March 17 after presentation of the Budget on the previous day.

Jewellers, however, threatened that strike would resume again if the proposal to levy excise duty of one per cent is not withdrawn in the Finance Bill, which is expected to come up before Parliament early next month. "The strike has been suspended till May 11, as the Finance Minister has assured us on a decision on rollback on excise duty and customs duty by first week of May," Jain said.

Delhi-based All India Sarafa Association General Secretary Surendra Jain also said that their members have also agreed to suspend the strike.

Some of traders who met Mukherjee, said the Finance Minister has assured them that their grievances with regard to levy of 1 per cent excise duty on unbranded jewellery would be addressed.

Before traders met Gandhi, Congress General Secretary Janardhan Dwivedi said the party has asked the government to consider jewellers` demand sympathetically.

Central Board of Excise and Customs (CBEC) Chairman S K Goel said that Mukherjee has assured traders that he would address their concerns at the time of consideration of the Finance Bill 2012 in Parliament and "associations have agreed to withdraw the strike".

"We will decide on calling off strike… industry lost nearly Rs 20,000 crore due to this strike and the government lost nearly Rs 1,200 crore (in revenue)," All-India Gems and Jewellery Trade Federation Chairman Bachhraj Bamalwa said after meeting with the Finance Minister.

Meanwhile, Gem and Jewellery Export Promotion Council (GJEPC) Chairman Rajiv Jain welcomed the assurance given by the Finance Minister and appealed to all jewellers in the country to resume their day to day business operations as early as possible

"The Finance Minister also assured that the import duty imbalance for jewellery imported under Free Trade Agreement from Thailand and other issues faced by the gems and jewellery exporters due to recent announcements in the budget will be looked into," the GJEPC said in a statement.

On March 16, a day before jewellers began their strike, gold prices in the national capital were ruling at Rs 28,140 per ten grams. In Mumbai, gold rates stood Rs 27,760 per ten grams.

India, the world`s largest gold consumer, imported 967 tonnes of precious metal in 2011. Gold is the second biggest commodity imported after crude oil.

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