Posters demanding an apology from the Gujarat government for “insulting diamond polishers” were found in at least eight areas of Surat on Friday. The content of these posters was in protest of the state government “blaming the polishers for the spike in (Covid-19) cases” in Surat city.
These posters also referred to a Gujarati news report headlined, “Government admits to Gujarat High Court that cases went up in Surat because of diamond polishers (sic)”.
The banners, this paper has learnt, were put up by Congress Corporator Dinesh Kachhadiya, from Ashwanikumar Phoolpada ward number five, who had printed 50 of them. They were found plastered on Katargam AK Road, Saraswati Circle, Ankur Cross Road at Mangadh Chowk, Hirabaug Chowk, Kapodara area and near the office of the Surat Diamond Association at Mini Bazaar in Varachha, among other areas.
The state government had faced the ire of the Gujarat High Court (HC) for the rising number of Covid-19 cases in Surat, especially after diamond and textile industries had reopened following Unlock-1. Last month, the HC had sought to know the “steps taken to ensure the safety of these workers” based on reports of “large-scale infection reported among the workers of these two industries”. It had also questioned the state government as to why it had not been able to contain the spread of Covid-19 in Surat, when it had already dealt with a similar situation in Ahmedabad.
Subsequently, the Gujarat government and the Surat Municipal Corporation (SMC) had listed the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) being followed by the two industries in a detailed reply that was made public earlier this week.
Deputy Commissioner (Health), SMC, Dr Ashish Naik told The Indian Express, “A total of 2,163 positive cases were found from among those associated with the diamond industry. We carried out meetings with factory owners to ensure that they are following SOPs and even sealed the factories that had failed to follow them.”.
However, former president of the Surat Diamond Association and Gujarat region president of the Gems and Jewellery Export Promotion Council, Dinesh Navadia said, “We strictly condemn the state government directly blaming diamond polishers for the hike in the cases in Katargam and Varachha in its reply (to the HC). There are other people such as office staff and those who undertake cleaning activities (who could be responsible for spreading the virus).”
Earlier this week, Congress’s Dinesh Kacchadiya, municipal councillor of Surat city, wrote to Chief Minister Vijay Rupani regarding the issue. In the letter, he stated that “the ruling party had allowed diamond factories to start functioning after laying down norms. Diamond factory owners had assured SMC authorities that they would follow the SOPs, but they didn’t. It is the diamond factory owners who did not implement the SOPs, not the diamond polishers. Even government officials failed to take effective steps, as a result of which such a situation could have been averted.”
“There are over 10 lakh diamond polishers in Surat city, majorly in Katargam and Varachha areas, who had to remain at home for around five months without jobs…and face financial crises,” he added.
Minister of State for Health Kumar Kanani, who represents Varachha constituency, said, “The steps taken by the government as stated in its
reply to the High Court are correct and everybody knows (what is going on). The opposition party is trying to make an issue out of it.”
President of Saurashtra Patel Sewa Samaj, and one of the founding members of the Surat Diamond Association, Kanjibhai Bhalara said, “People of the diamond industry have made Gujarat and Surat “Aatma Nirbhar” (self-sufficient) by setting up hospitals, schools and donating towards development works in the city. The industry has flourished not with the help of the government, but because of the industry leaders. We condemn the state government’s reply to the Gujarat HC. In Surat, we have also seen a rise in cases in Limbayat zone (1,818 cases), Udhna zone (1,127) cases and Athwa zone (1,901) cases, which are non-diamond industry areas. So, diamond polishers are not the only ones responsible.”
Surat president of the Diamond Workers Union, Bhavesh Tank, said, “The state government should apologise for this… The local bodies had failed in controlling the situation and to hide their failure, they are holding diamond polishers responsible. Why doesn’t the state government take a stand to implement labour laws in the diamond industry?“
Meanwhile, 38-year-old diamond polisher Rakesh Bariya was found dead at his residence on Thursday night. Bariya had recently tested positive for coronavirus during a Rapid Antigen Testing (RAT) drive at a diamond factory in Katargam area.
Bariya’s sister, Sheela, who was looking after his two children following the death of his wife, had reported the alleged suicide to the police. Amroli police sub-inspector JK Barya told this paper that Bariya had “mentally broken down after he tested positive”.
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