Mumbai's Diamond, Gold Merchants Furious at Government Apathy

Mumbai, Jul 14 (IANS): The country's diamond and gold jewelery hubs in Mumbai, with a daily turnover of over Rs.10 billion, are angry and aghast at the manner in which thay have been blatantly targeted on three occasions by terror blasts.

The entire market -- spread over barely two square kilometres in south Mumbai - remained shut today (Thursday) to protest the attack Wednesday evening in Zaveri Bazar and Opera House, the hubs of gold and diamond trade respectively.

Now, there are plans to keep the market closed even on Friday as all the top trade associations plan to meet and discuss their future course of action vis-à-vis the government in the face of terror.

Bombay Bullion Association president Prithviraj Kothari said this industry alone accounts for nearly Rs.10 billion (Rs.1,000 crore) trade per day, and over Rs.300,000 crore per year.

"From these massive business volumes, calculate our huge contribution to the national exchequer by way octroi, VAT, sales tax, other levies, etc." Kothari, who has convened the emergency meeting of nearly a dozen trade associations, told IANS here Thursday.

"Unfortunately, each time there is an attack, the industry goes on blink for nearly three months."

According to Kothari, soon after the blasts, the national and international customers are reluctant to enter the vicinity in view of severe security restrictions and a general fear psychosis, hitting the trade severely.

Besides the gold and diamond industries, even the wholesale pharmaceutical, iron and metals, crockery and plastics markets are situated in the vicinity, leading to a cascading effect on the overall losses, he pointed out.

The area has a working population of nearly 200,000 people directly or indirectly engaged in the jewellery business, besides over hundreds of thousand from all over the country and overseas visit some 4,000 offices daily, Kothari said.

"Naturally, we have initiated our own security precautions like private guards, close-circuit TV cameras, entry-exit restrictions. But what have we got from the government for our security despite making such a huge contribution to the exchequer?" he asked.

Another prominent diamond merchant, Girish Shah said that in the past couple of decades, it has become practically impossible to carry on the business in south Mumbai where it has been concentrated for nearly a century.

"We are told to shift to the newly-constructed Bharat Diamond Bourse (BDB) in the suburban Bandra-Kurla Complex, but it is not a practical proposition for a vast majority of the traders here," Shah said.

"The government keeps people like Afzal Guru and Kasab alive while we are left to be killed in these terror attacks," he said bitterly, referring to the March 12, 1993, Aug 25, 2003, and the latest -- July 13, 2011, blasts in the jewellery hubs.

Shah said they were a soft target who cannot retaliate strongly enough, but instead of shutting down the markets periodically, it would be better if the industry people went on an indefinite hunger strike to shake the authorities.

Kothari said that each time a "red alert" is declared in Mumbai, police and other security officials virtually lay siege to the gold and diamond markets, creating major hurdles for the residents and visiting businessmen.

"Security agencies are doing their job well, but this is a truly sensitive area. There is also the famous Mumbadevi temple and Jama Masjid, besides several other places of worship and important buildings, not to mention the massive hawker menace," he said.

"All this makes us an easy target."

He said that while many businesses have shifted to the BDB, in view of several teething problems they treat it as a front office and the existing offices in south Mumbai continue to be their retail or wholesale outlets.

Both Shah and Kothari said that wholesale shifting to the BDB would pose many other security and logistical problems for the people engaged in the business.

While the Opera House and Zaveri Bazar offer easy walkable approach from Charni Road, Marine Lines and Masjid Bunder railway stations, Bandra-Kurla Complex is very far away from both Bandra or Kurla stations, and the approach is through thickly populated slums.

They apprehend their employees, who carry small packet containing high value diamonds, could be targeted by anti-social elements. "Until viable alternatives are available, we shall have to contend with these terror attacks," said Shah.



Title : Mumbai's Diamond, Gold Merchants Furious at Government Apathy


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