Left with no source of income, workers in Surat’s diamond industry are leaving the city in large numbers.
After being forced to down shutters in March-end owing to the COVID-19 outbreak, business resumed in the second week of June. However, over 600 workers and their families have tested positive for COVID-19, prompting the Surat Municipal Corporation to order the closure of diamond polishing and cutting units till July 13.
Over six lakh people are employed in more than 9,000 diamond units. Surat Diamond Workers Union president Jaysukh Gajera fears 70% of the workforce may never return. “Even if they do, they will not return with their families,” he said.
Workers who were living in rented houses are now unable to sustain their livelihood. Mr. Gajera said, “They have been jobless for almost four months and there is little hope of the situation improving. Nearly 1,500 families are leaving in mini-trucks every day with their belongings. This is unprecedented.”
Surat Luxury Bus Operators Association president Dinesh Andhan said an average of 300 buses carrying nearly 6,000 people, mostly diamond industry workers, leave Surat every day for Saurashtra and north Gujarat. Mr. Andhan said they are witnessing a greater rush of people leaving the city now than what it used to be during the Deepavali vacations.
“While nearly 6,000 workers are leaving the city in luxury buses, some 4,000 are leaving in cars, trucks and other vehicles every day. Many are leaving with their belongings. Bus operators are not charging them for their luggage and belongings being being accommodated on top of the buses,” Mr. Andhan said.
Surat Municipal Commissioner Banchhanidhi Pani said the civic body does not have the figures of those leaving the city.