At a time when exports and domestic demand have taken a hit due to the coronavirus
outbreak, Surat-based diamond and synthetic textile industries will remain open to sustain business. The two sectors in the city together employ 2 million workers in normal business environment.
Industry stakeholders say closure of units due to reduced capacity utilisation would not only impact the health of the two industries but would also lead to widespread unemployment.
The respective industry associations have therefore decided to keep the units open for the benefit of unit owners and workers, most of whom are migrants from other states such as Odisha, Bihar and Jharkhand. However, adequate precautions will be made to prevent spread of coronavirus.
Diamond Association (SDA) has decided not to shut down units but ensure cleanliness and create awareness about the outbreak during operations. According to Babhubhai Kathiriya, president of SDA, among several decisions taken in a recent meeting of stakeholders, the industry body has decided that units would run between 11 am and 6 pm daily even as diamond traders are discouraged from entering markets outside of trading hours.
"All units are required to measure temperature daily, arrange for hand sanitizers and masks for diamond polishing workers and provide basic health check-ups. On the other hand, the association will run an awareness campaign on safety measures to be taken to prevent spread of coronavirus.
We will also collaborate with the local civic body and state government," said Kathiriya.
diamond industry's decision has been echoed by the larger industry body, the Gems and Jewellery Export Promotion Council (GJEPC), with regional chairman Dinesh Navadia stating that the decision will not only ensure that workers remain employed but will also help limit the spread of the virus.
According to Navadia, with the industry employing over 550,000 diamond workers, closure for even 15 days would result in large scale unemployment. The industry is already operating at less than 40 per cent capacity due to a major decline in export orders following the coronavirus outbreak. "In February alone, exports were down by $860 million on a year-on-year basis," he added.
Similarly, the entire textile value chain, right from weaving to processing to trading, has also decided to continue operations despite facing slowdown.
"As such, several workers haven't returned from their hometowns after the recent 'holi-dhuleti' holidays. Also, due to the impact on overseas and domestic demand, especially with major centres like Mumbai and Kolkata remaining closed, capacity utilisation has been hit. However, it is important that units remain open to sustain themselves and keep workers engaged," said Ashish Gujarati, president of Pandesara Weavers' Association, a leading powerloom hub in Surat.
Industry players like Jitubhai Vakharia, president, South Gujarat Textile Processors' Association (SGTPA), are of the view that shutting down units would make it difficult to keep workers indoors, resulting in more social movement and increasing chances of the virus spread.
"At least in textile units, workers are spread out beyond one metre and all safety precautions are being taken. This way, the virus spread can be contained at least for a month even though units are operating at below par capacity," said Vakharia.
Employing over 1.5 million workers across the value chain, Surat's textile industry currently churns out 20-25 million metres a day as against a full capacity of 40 million metres.