Bengal gold artisans hit

Tens of thousands of Bengali artisans employed in Gujarat's jewellery-making units are returning home because demonetisation has reduced sales by more than 90 per cent and left them without work and, therefore, pay.

By Basant Rawat
  • Published 25.11.16
  •  

Ahmedabad, Nov. 24: Tens of thousands of Bengali artisans employed in Gujarat's jewellery-making units are returning home because demonetisation has reduced sales by more than 90 per cent and left them without work and, therefore, pay.

About 60,000 of the one lakh-odd Bengali artisans who work in Ahmedabad's big and small gold factories have already left. The situation is similar in Rajkot, Surat, Vadodara and small towns like Kalol and Bhuj, where too most of the gold artisans are Bengalis.

Jigar Soni, secretary of the Jewellers Association in Ahmedabad and one of the state's top 100 jewellery wholesalers, said half the 150 artisans his unit employed had gone home. He added that all the 25 "most skilled" among his artisans were from Bengal.

"I asked them to go and wait till things normalise before they return," Soni told The Telegraph.

Asked when that might happen, he said: "No idea; perhaps not before March next year. "

He said that jewellers were not receiving any fresh orders. "I can only pay next month's salary to the remaining 50 per cent artisans," he said. "If fresh orders don't come, perhaps I'll have to send them home too."

Small jewellery-manufacturing units like the one run by Muniruddin Mir, a Bengali, have already downed shutters. Mir has sent all his artisans back home to Hooghly district in Bengal, from where he himself hails.

Hemant De, who has been running a small gold unit in the city for the past 30 years, said some 90 of his 150 artisans had left for their homes in Hooghly and the two Midnapores.

Rauf Shaikh, owner of a small jewellery-making unit and president of the Samast Bengali Samaj Association - an association of Bengalis living in Ahmedabad - said this year had been the worst for the jewellery business.

First, the civic body closed down 300 gold-melting refineries in Ahmedabad over pollution issues early this year, bringing the industry to a standstill for three months. Then, in April, the jewellers struck work for 42 days protesting an excise duty.

Now, just after things had settled down, the demonetisation has devastated the industry and left tens of thousands of artisans jobless, Shaikh said.

A skilled artisan earned about Rs 2 lakh a year along with 15 days' paid leave. They may not have it so good after the crisis eases and allows them to return to work, industry sources suggested.

Indications are that even the retail jewellers might start retrenching employees if the crisis continues, as looks likely.

"The jewellers are keeping their shops and showrooms open just for the sake of it. There is hardly any business," said Narendra Soni, a jewellery manufacturer, whose artisans too are sitting idle.

"The occasional customer who walks in is generally looking to buy gold for a wedding. Apart from that, there is no demand, no customers."