Photographs: Yves Herman/Reuters Rutam Vora and Vinay Umarji in Vadodara, Ahmedabad
The legality of angadias, the unofficial network of banking and courier services, might be questionable. However, the dependence of the diamond industry on these is unquestionable.
For instance, when angadia services take a 15-day vacation during Diwali, many diamond traders declare holidays.
“They have become the heart of the industry, in transporting goods between Mumbai and Gujarat,” said a former president of the Surat Diamond Association (SDA).
Monday night’s raids by the tax department and the National Investigative Agency on four vehicles full of cash and diamonds at Mumbai Central station reasserted this dependence of the diamond industry on the unofficial network.
Insiders revealed Rs 200-250 crore (Rs 2 - 2.5 billion) worth of cash and ‘parcels’ are transported between Gujarat and Mumbai daily. Of this, Rs 100-150 crore (Rs 1 - 1.5 billion) are believed to be diamond and jewellery consignments for the industry in Surat and Ahmedabad.
The secretive world of angadias
Photographs: Andreas Manolis/Reuters
In fact, the amounts could be much more - the unorganised nature of their business makes it difficult to get the exact number, said the proprietor of a jewellery firm.
Of course, the other side of this courier network is that it is used for hawala or other “unofficial” remittances, from abroad or domestic sources. However, many simply choose to take this route because of the efficiency and secrecy.
Many say the official courier or government postal services have not been efficient enough for diamantaires. The angadia service has not only survived but also proliferated with professionalism.
“Even if it is unorganised, the angadia also provide insurance for your consignment. Their charges are nominal and economical in comparison with the post or private courier. Most important, there is faith attached to it,” said a leading diamond trader from Surat.
Industry estimates suggest of the 10,000 diamond polishing and cutting units in Surat, only 10 per cent or 1,000 units would be using the official way to transport goods and cash.
The secretive world of angadias
Photographs: Francois Lenoir/Reuters
“Small unit owners do not understand the legalities attached to official transactions. They find the angadia more convenient and quick. Also, movement of precious diamonds is risky for individuals; the angadia are professionally trained for this,” said another diamond trader and exporter.
Experts say it is only recently that cash transfer through online modes became prevalent in the country.
“Only a few years back, we did not have NEFT or RTGS fund transfer. The diamond industry has huge cash volumes to make payments and receivables. By the time banks transfer their funds over a couple of days, the money would have changed hands several times through these angadia,” said Ajoy Bhattacharya, former president, South Gujarat Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
The market rates for delivering diamonds and jewellery from Surat to Mumbai and back depends on the value of the consignment. The rate is fixed on a percentage; some levy a fixed charge. “The business is driven by just one fundamental, faith,” said Bhattacharya.