Suicides up as slowdown takes the shine off diamond

A rare polished diamond is pictured at the office of 77diamonds company in Antwerp, Belgium February 1, 2018. Picture taken February 1, 2018. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

Surat's diamonds are losing their sparkle. And its workers, their livelihoods. The plunging business is now claiming lives too.

On Wednesday, one more jobless diamond worker ended his life, taking the number of such suicides in three months to 15.

Crippled by a slowdown for the third consecutive year, Surat's diamond polishing industry is trying to stay afloat with layoffs and salary cuts. Industry insiders say that in the past six months alone, 30,000 to 40,000 polishers in the city have either lost their jobs or seen their salaries slashed, leading to financial instability. They say the situation is getting worse and the industry is looking at a longer Diwali vacation.

Last week, over 200 factory workers were laid off. Sources say the owners had tried to shut up shop two months ago but had continued operating till last week owing to pressure from workers. 

"We have been witnessing a slowdown for nearly three straight years. Diwali is not bringing any good news as many out-of-business units are being compelled to shut. We can't do much except wait for this phase to be over," says Babubhai Kathiriya, president of Surat Diamond Association.

Kathiriya was hesitant to admit that the diamond industry is staring at a longer Diwali vacation. He says that since schools are opening shortly, the vacation will not last two weeks, but admits that several units may extend it for more than a month.

A top diamond firm owner informs that at least eight to 10 lakh people are engaged in diamond cutting and polishing industry. But festival bonus is out of bounds this year. "There is no question of bonus this time. In fact, we are trying to avoid layoffs," he says, requesting not to be quoted.

"The diamond industry is in a very bad shape. We have recorded 12% fall in exports between April and September 2019 compared to last year. The crisis will deepen in the coming days if certain things are not rectified," says Dinesh Navadiya, regional chairman of the Gems and Jewellery Export Promotion Council.

He says that banking finance is now tightly controlled due to a few defaults, which is choking the health of the industry. Besides, the GST also broke down small units in rural areas. The third issue arose due to the trade war between China and the United States. The unrest in Hong Kong has also dealt a blow to the diamond industry.

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