Classical music finds it difficult to tune in with GST
Since the Government of India has implemented the Goods and Services Tax (GST) despite murmurs of resent, several sectors seem to be reeling from its after effects. Some claim that GST is still a bit unclear, while some complain about higher taxation percent. But among them, the most affected are Indian classic music artists and event organisers. Now, event organizers have to pay highest tax among the four slabs of GST—28 per cent, while artists have to pay 18 per cent of their earnings.
Prior to GST, classical music and dance festivals were exempted from any such taxation. However, post implementation of GST a 28 percent GST will be levied on such concerts or festivals, which have tickets priced above ₹250. Most artists are crying foul as they feel that such a huge taxation will not only make organisers pick the best performers, but will also decrease the number of such events. And the ultimate looser would be the Indian classical music lovers and performers.
Take the example of the recently concluded SwarMalhar Festival in Pune. Rajas Upadhye, the organiser of the event, said, “We are facing a double attack. First, we had lesser audience. Secondly, artists charging fees above ₹1,50,000 will also have to pay GST. So, both the organisers and performers are facing the heat. While the organiser has to shell out a whooping 28 percent GST, the artist has to pay 18 percent of his fee, is he charges beyond the specified cut off.”
With most of these cultural events, being organised by the event managers at a very nominal margin, once in a while facilitate mega events to earn a few bucks more. Most feel that now they would have to share a major chunk of their earnings with the government.
“Indian classical music is a form of prayer to the gods. It should always be encouraged, as its not just about music but about Indian tradition. It is also dying in several parts of country, as youths of today, are more attracted towards rock music. Unfortunately, instead of supporting us, the government has slapped us with the highest percentage of tax on its events,” rued Mor Mukut Kedia, a Sitar player, from Jharkhand. He and his brother Manoj Kedia, a Sarod player, better known as Kedia brothers, have given performances across India and globally, often complimented of reminding the audience of Ustad Ali Akbar and Pandit Ravi Shankar’s Sarod and Sitar jugalbandi.
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Similar reactions were given by many classical musicians. “GST is quite a controversial tax,” says tabla player Pranshu Chatur Lal. Pranshu, grandson of legendary tabla player Pandit Chatur Lal, is a popular onstage performer. On being prodded further, he maintained that classical performers shouldn’t be charged this high under GST. He said, “There should be more clarity on GST. People still don’t know what is happening. Also, most of the classical music and dance performers are not that well paid, as cultural events are not that popular. Only those, who are really well acclaimed get a great renumeration. Also, we have a limited audience. So, no doubt, classical music and cultural events will witness a steady decline.” He also added, “Most classical musicians are struggling freelancers, hence their earnings will be affected.”
However, the gloomy GST does have a silver lining, but that is for the events, which are ticketed at ₹100 or lower. Speaking on the same was Abhijeet Kargupta, playwright and director of Kolkata-based theatre group Chok. He said, “Most of our theatre shows are ticketed at ₹100. Earlier we had to pay a nominal tax to the state government. However, post implementation of GST, we have not had to pay any tax. So, it is definitely a good thing for theatre groups like ours.” He also added, “Ticketed theatre shows are still not that popular. So, it will be a problematic for organisers and artists, who have a higher ticketing value.”
The fact remains that artists, who are also not being critical of GST also feel that many will be affected. Reacting to GST imposed on musicians Padma Shree and Grammy award winner Vishwa Mohan Bhatt said, “Implementation of 28 percent GST on musical instruments like harmonium is not fair. Our classical instruments should be exempted from such taxes,” said Bhatt. However, on being asked, about its adverse effect, he said, “I don’t think that it will affect the footfall. Those, who want to listen will come. Though, now most classical musicians and dancers would feel a slight pinch, I am of the opinion that if this GST is for the betterment of the country, then we should not complain.”
However, Lal, did concede to the fact, that for shows, that are generally ticketed at a higher price, would witness a decline. However, he refused to comment on the extent by which the audience decline would be experienced.