Diamond businessmen, who had to either close down polishing and trading jobs or scale down business because of the stringent guidelines laid down by the Surat Municipal Corporation (SMC) to contain the coronavirus infection in this labour intensive industry, have found ways to keep business going while abiding by the social distancing norms.
After over 1,700 involved in the diamond business got Covid-19, and the diamond hubs of Katargam and Varachha became hotspots, the SMC allowed diamond factories to open only if one person sat on each emery wheel, wore masks, and used sanitisers.
In the B. Virani Diamond estate at Baroda Prestige in Varachha area of Surat, owner Bhupat Virani bought used cartons of corrugated board and fixed it on the emery wheels to enable at least two polishers to work.
Working on the emery wheel is an intricate job and each emery wheel ideally should have four men on it, making it hard to maintain social distancing. Generally on a single emery wheel, four diamond polishers work dividing the jobs on the diamonds among them.
Similarly diamond traders handled sachets of the polished precious stone which passed through several hands and discerning eyes before it went to the market, thus making the handlers vulnerable to infection. The way out, as devised by a trader was to pass the sachets under ultraviolet light.
Virani said, “It becomes hard for a single diamond polisher to work alone on one emery wheel as it takes more time… labour cost goes high and production goes down. With two polishers on a single emery wheel, the work is divided. We are somehow surviving in this tough time.”
Virani’s factory has over 150 emery wheels engaging over 300 diamond polishers.
Virani said, “Generally on a single emery wheel, one polisher works on the table (top part of the diamond), second works on the crown, third works on the girdle and fourth on the pavilion (bottom part). The factory owners were ready to abide by all the SOPs but maintaining social distancing on the emery wheel was a big problem. So keeping in mind the risk factor, we have decided to place partition of corrugated boards, by which they cannot even see each other, and the social distancing aspect is sorted out.” In pre-Covid-19 days, there were 1,000 polishers working in Virani’s unit, and now, he calls in 600 at a time.
Factories in Hirabaug area and Sneh mudra estate both in Varachha also used corrugated boards to optimise use of the polishers and the wheel.
The SMC had made out cases and penalised around 100 diamond factories for not maintaining social distancing and directed them to call in only 50 per cent of the employees at a time in the factory.
Factory owners who had diamond polisher working with them for last 20 years are worried how they could keep paying them without assigning them work.
Hitesh Patel, a diamond polisher working in B. Virani factory for last 15 years, said, “We have already spent our savings. Now since we are working every alternate day, our salaries have also gone down. Earlier, I used to earn around 25,000 per month, but now my salary is around Rs 12,000. We also cannot force our owners as at least they have not asked us to leave. How can we run house with such limited income? I have to pay rent of Rs 3,000. There is my wife, and two school going children to look after.”
Ravi Ghelani, a diamond trader who works out of Varachha, is among those who started using UV lights to disinfect diamond packets, as a prevention tool for Covid-19.
Ghelani said, “There are chances of coronavirus spreading among the diamond traders as they open diamond sachets to see its contents. These sachets would have passed through different hands of brokers and traders. Since they are made of paper, regular use of sanitiser can damage them. So I bought UV lights to disinfect the diamond packets. Many diamond traders who run office in trading markets also have purchased such lights to disinfect the diamonds and protect themselves.”
Among the leading diamond players from Surat is Dharmanandan diamonds where earlier 7,000 polishers worked on a single day. Now, employees come in batches of 3,000 on alternate days. The diamond firm has offices in USA, Dubai, China and Hong Kong and is also into exports. Eighteen polishers from this unit have got infected and the SMC had sealed the whole factory.
Dharmanandan Diamond owner Lalji Patel said, “Since last 10 days, 3,000 diamond polishers work on alternate days at my factory. My factory, which was sealed, opened after 14 days during which we disinfected the premises. Now for the last 10 days, not a single positive case from my factory has been reported. We are following the SOPs and even we have started collecting penalty amount of Rs 100 from the diamond polisher who is found without mask in the factory.”
Surat diamond association president Babubhai Katheriya said, “The diamond industry is facing a tough time due to the pressure from SMC and also with no demands from international market.”
Surat municipal commissioner B N Pani, however, did not seem confident with the idea of using boards as partition. “I have come to know about the corrugated boards been fixed on emery wheel as partition, but it is not the right way. We can allow only one person on one emery wheel to maintain social distance. If number of positive cases from the industry goes down, we will consider other ways like using corrugated boards.”
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines