Recession drives diamond workers out of Surat

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Surat, Jun 26 (UNI) With the city's famous diamond industry reeling under recession since the past two years, over one lakh migrant workers quit their jobs and went back to their native places as they were finding it difficult to survive in the city with escalating prices and inadequate income.

Diamond workers, who cut and polish the rough diamonds, are the backbone of the diamond industry. In 2001, there were seven lakh workers employed in over 4,000 big and small diamond units and the figure went down to five lakh workers in 2005. From 2006 to 2008, another one lakh workers had left the city, as they could not sustain themselves on low income.

Attributing the recession to the recent slump in the US economy, Surat Diamond Association President C P Vanani said the US is a major market for diamond industry, as it imports 38-40 billion dollars worth of diamonds from India, the diamond industry is passing through a severe recession and is on the verge of collapse.

Due to recession, the diamond industry had to enforce a wage cut, slashing their wages from Rs 35 per diamond to Rs 20 per diamond.

So, poor wages and rising cost of living took a toll on the workers, with many resorting to suicide to escape the hardship.

''If the current recessionary trend continues, small units will have to shut down,'' he said, adding that nonetheless the industry had been trying to find a way out.

Some of the units have already increased the labour charges for diamond cutting by 10 to 15 per cent. The Association wants to effect a hike of minimum 20 per cent in the labour charges, so that diamond workers can survive and they do not migrate, said Mr Vanani.

He said Indian merchants import rough diamonds from countries such as South Africa, Australia, Israel, Belgium and Canada.

Besides, the industry is also reliant upon low supply of rough diamonds from other foreign countries. Hence, cutting of rough diamond work usully lasts for only four months, that is between August and November. For the rest of the period, the owners keep their units running only to support diamond workers, he informed.

Majority of the diamond workers hail from Saurashtra region of Gujarat. After migrating to their native places, they switch over to agriculture which, they consider, to be the best bet, according to industry leaders.

The cut and polished diamonds from Surat account for Rs 45,000 crore in total national export of Rs 80,000 crore.

UNI XR/HT SSS SBA BD1938

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