Diamond city of India sees exodus of workers due to Covid-19 crisis


File photo of worker inspecting a rough diamond at a manufacturing company in Surat, about 270km from Ahmedabad. (SAM PANTHAKY/AFP via Getty Images)
File photo of worker inspecting a rough diamond at a manufacturing company in Surat, about 270km from Ahmedabad. (SAM PANTHAKY/AFP via Getty Images)

THOUSANDS of workers at the famed diamond units of Surat in Gujarat are leaving the city as the pandemic has left them in penury.

Over 600,000 people were employed in more than 9,000 stone-cutting and polishing units in Surat, known worldwide for its $24 billion diamond industry.

With the national lockdown imposed from March-end to the first week of June, these migrant workers were left jobless leading to an exodus.

As the Indian government eased the lockdown in June, business activities resumed. But, with over 600 workers and their families testing positive for coronavirus, Surat’s local authorities were forced to shut them down again as a precautionary measure.

Though no official figures were available, head of a bus operators’ union in Surat, Dinesh Andhan, said that daily about 300 buses ferried nearly 6,000 people, mostly diamond industry workers, from the city to their native towns — mostly in the Saurashtra and northern regions of Gujarat, and some in states such as Odisha, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.

Another 4,000 workers left the Surat leaving in cars, trucks and other vehicles every day, he added.

“Many are leaving with their belongings, with heavy luggage accommodated on top of the buses,” Andhan noted.

“We are witnessing a greater rush of people leaving the city now than what it used to be during the Diwali vacations.”

Surat Diamond Workers’ Union president Jaysukh Gajera said such a reverse migration was “unprecedented”, adding that about 70 per cent of the workers “may never come back”.

“They have been jobless for almost four months, and there is little hope the situation will improve in near future,” he said. “Nearly 1,500 families are leaving for their native places in mini-trucks every day with their belongings.”