Skyrocketing prices of yellow and white metal have taken the sheen off Rajkot,one of the countrys best known hubs of handmade wedding and ethnic jewellery.
The narrow lanes and by-lanes of Soni Bazar,dotted with gold shops and jewellery manufacturing units,usually bustle with clients and traders. Now,they wear a deserted look.
Till recently,with a total gold consumption of over 2,000 kg per day,it accounted for production and sale of 50 per cent of all wedding jewellery in India. The record high prices of gold,which have crossed the mark of Rs 15,000 per 10 gm,may have brought all smiles to investors,but artisans and workers of gold-silver jewellery are finding themselves at the receiving end.
Little demand for gold jewellery has pushed over 5,000 small and big manufacturing units in the city on the verge of closure. While small units,with 10-15 workers,have already downed shutters,bigger ones are struggling to survive by reducing the working hours to half. This has again affected over 60,000 artisans.
Suresh Bhanu,a 35-year-old artisan from West Bengal,is contemplating to return to his native village. Until Diwali,he was earning Rs 6,000 to Rs 7,000 per month,enough to pay for his lodging and send a couple of thousands back home. For two months now,his earnings have gone down to more than half. I hardly earn Rs 3,000,which I can even earn at my place. If the situation continues,I will have to shift base, he said.
Instead of 8 am to midnight shift,units are now open only for a maximum of eight hours a day, said Kanti Ranpara,secretary of Rajkot Gold Dealers Association. Every one in the chain,from artisans to wholesale dealers,have been severely affected, he said.
The gold industry provides direct employment to nearly 30,000 artisans,and as many people are employed in the manufacturing of silver ornaments.
Like Bhanu,several thousand other artisans are now idle and have no idea how to handle the slowdown. I used to work for over 10 hours a day. Now,I have to be content with a four-hour shift, said Nanji Sahu.
These artisans are expert in making wedding and ethnic jewellery,which has put Rajkot on the world map. Lightweight gold and silver jewellery made here have found domestic as well as overseas clients for unique designs and perfect polish. The worldwide recognition of Rajkot designs has also led to a thriving retail market with over 250 shops,which are all but deserted.
There has been little fresh demand. With prices touching an all time high following the depreciation of rupee,people are out to sale gold but there are not retail takers. Moreover,there is little demand of jewellery items,as they cost 10 to 30 per cent more than just a piece of gold, said Harish Saholiya,a local shop owner.
Orders are down by 60 per cent,and the situation is likely to get worse, said Ranpara.
The downslide continued despite this being a marriage season; the next season is only a couple of months away. Jewellery demand among NRIs has also been hit due to the global slowdown.
From artisans to shop owners,everyone has kept fingers crossed although it is known that it will get worse before they can see some ray of hope. We have to prepare ourselves for worse as prices,as per market experts,are likely to go up to about Rs 20,000, Ranpara said.