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Surat: After the floods, diamond workers face joblessness
Haresh Pandya | September 21, 2006
Thousands of diamond industry workers have been rendered jobless following the floods that wreaked havoc in Surat in August, making their life harder than the stone they cut and polish to make a living.
Even as the diamond merchants and traders think of starting their operations anew, many workers in Surat's diamond industry are returning to their homes in the Saurashtra region in search of employment.
Saurashtra has always had the lion's share in Surat's diamond industry, in terms of traders as well as workers. The other big diamond centres being Amreli, Rajkot, Bhavnagar and Jasdan, in Gujarat.
Almost 300,000 diamond cutters and polishers that lend life to Surat's diamond industry come from Amreli district alone. But the unprecedented floods that ravaged the nation's diamond capital have left these people desperate.
Unable to secure employment as diamond cutters and polishers, an occupation they have trained themselves for, these workers are now taking up whatever work comes their way: some have become factory workers, while others menial labourers.
Amreli boasted of over 1,500 flourishing diamond units until recently. Not any more. At least 500 of them have been shut now. Others are also struggling with their owners finding it hard to keep their employees and pay them decent wages.
Worst-affected as they are by certain government policies and an alarming decline in the inflow of raw material from Surat, diamond traders in Amreli and other parts of Saurashtra are not in a position to provide employment. To add to their woes, the demand for sparklers in the world market has also dropped a bit of late.
In the early 1990s, diamond workers in Saurashtra earned almost Rs 40 for polishing one sparkler. The rate has gone down to about Rs 20 only per diamond now.
Even before the floods in Surat, the health of the diamond industry in Saurashtra, particularly in Amreli district, was all but good. Diamond workers in the region were already having a hard time. With others returning from Surat, their number has doubled and so has their plight.
In such a scenario, diamond merchants from Surat and Saurashtra have been looking for new means of earnings. More and more are beginning to invest in the stock market and real estate, making the situation grimmer for an already crippled diamond industry.
However, some diamond traders from Surat -- originally from Saurashtra -- have not lost hearts despite suffering heavy losses because of floods. Since Surat's sparkling industry is likely to take a while to rehabilitate itself to its past glory, these merchants have been setting up alternate diamond cutting and polishing units in some of the major centres in Saurashtra.
"This is a good idea. These traders hail from Saurashtra, know the region well and will never be short of skilled labour. Plenty of experienced diamond workers, including those returning from Surat, are jobless and are desperately looking for employment," said Shailesh Ranpara, a diamond merchant from Amreli.
"It would be great if the diamond industry begins to thrive in Saurashtra again. Who wants to go to as far as Surat if the employment is available at home? I wish I could find a job as a diamond cutter and polisher somewhere in Saurashtra," said Shamji Parmar, a skilled diamond worker from Rajkot.