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Industry under attack

Driving down Howrah-Amta Road, one is struck by the opulence of the area. Palatial buildings dot the road in a village nearly 30 km from Calcutta and five kilometre from NH6. The market place in Domjur abounds with the best vegetables and fruits. It is apparent that people here are used to a good life. The affluence of the residents of Domjur is rooted in the thriving jewellery and diamond-setting industry that caters to the markets of India and also Europe, the Middle East and other Asian countries. Nearly 30,000 jewellery workers and designers spread across Domjur, Uttar Jhapardah, Dakshin Jhapardah, Begri, Rudrapur, Narna and Parbatipur under Domjur block are directly or indirectly involved in the jewellery industry which has an annual turnover of more than Rs 500 crore. Most of the residents of these gram panchayats are skilled in jewellery work and have been in the profession for generations.

However, in the last few years, the jewellery industry in Domjur is under threat from armed gangsters who attack them. In the last four or five years, armed goons have attacked owners of jewellery workshops and forcibly taken away gold and diamond jewellery. However, things turned serious when the president of Domjur Swarna Roupya Shilpi Samity, Sasthi Charan Deb, 55, was shot dead by an armed gang near his house-cum-workshop on February 14. “We want the police to be more active in curbing the activities of armed gangs in Domjur to save the jewellery industry. Domjur police station has tried but failed. What we need now is a jewellery hub where we can work with security,” said Tarun Ghosh, joint secretary of the samity.

The armed gang shot Deb from point blank range after he caught hold of one the gangsters who was fleeing with some gold jewellery boxes from Deb’s workshop, barely one-and-half kilometre from Domjur police station. Deb, who was instrumental in making the jewellery industry flourish in Domjur, was honoured by the state government in recognition of his skill in designing and making jewellery.

“The way the armed gang killed Sasthida indicates how desperate they are. Earlier, they used to snatch consignments of gold and diamond jewellery at gunpoint. Now they have started shooting traders. We are fearing more such attacks from the armed gangs if special security measures are not taken immediately,” said Ghosh.

The problem with the jewellery industry in Domjur is that the jewellery workshops are not concentrated in one single area like it is in Zaveri market in Mumbai. There are at least 5,000 workshops spread over seven villages of Domjur block and most of them are in residential areas. “If the workshops were concentrated in a single area, then the armed gangs would not have dared strike at will like they are doing now. Most of the workshops are scattered over vast areas,” said a workshop owner. Most attacks happen when owners of small workshops are on their way to deliver gold and diamond jewellery to their customers in public vehicles.

A senior officer of Domjur police station said it was difficult to provide full security to the jewellery traders in Domjur because of its geographical location. “Domjur block is connected with Howrah-Amta Road and Jagadishpur Road. Both the roads are well connected with the NH6. So it is easy for the armed gangs to flee after committing crimes,” he said. It is also difficult for the police to identify the armed gangs as they are all new faces. “Only extensive police patrolling on all the three major roads Howrah-Amta Road, Jagadishpur Road and NH6 near Domjur can reduce the attack from the armed gangs,” he said.

Now that such attacks are on the rise, the owners of workshops want a jewellery hub where they can work with minimum risk. In 2007, former MP and the then chairman of Howrah Improvement Trust (HIT), Swadesh Ranjan Chakraborty, put up a proposal for setting up a housing-cum-jewellery project in Domjur. The engineers of the architecture department of Bengal Engineering and Science University (Besu) made a detailed plan for the purpose. But the project did not progress after trouble started brewing in Singur and Nandigram over land acquisition. “According to plan, a jewellery hub and common facility centre were to come up in Domjur for the jewellery traders. The land for the purpose was also earmarked but not requisitioned,” said Chakraborty. Most of the jewellery traders are willing to shift their units to the proposed jewellery hub if HIT or any other government body builds such a hub in Domjur. “Besides getting access to the common facility inside the hub, our security will be tighter inside the hub,” said Swapan Deb, a jewellery trader.

For the last one year, the state micro and small scale industries department has taken an initiative to set up a cluster for the jewellery industry in Domjur. “The Cluster Development Project (CDP) under the Micro and Small Scale Entrepreneur (MSSE) programme is on. The survey report has been sent to the central ministry and we have been asked to interact with the jewellery traders,” said Rahul Amin, industrial development officer (IDO), Howrah.