Workers flee Surat; this time for good

Rutam Vora Ahmedabad | Updated on July 10, 2020 Published on July 10, 2020

File picture of people in a queue to collect food from volunteers during the nationwide Covid-19 lockdown, in Surat.   -  PTI

Cases jump in the diamond and textile hub raising safety concerns for workers and their families

The Eicher trucks loaded with beds, mattresses, kitchen racks and other household items queuing-up along the main roads of the city has become a common sight these days in Surat.

With no relief in sight from the economic hardships triggered by the pandemic, workers from the city’s various industries including the once-shining diamond and textile sectors have started moving back to their native places, this time lock, stock and barrel.

Transport operators said that daily dozens of trucks are being hired to transfer household items to destinations in Saurashtra and North Gujarat.

“Since the beginning of this month, we have seen daily inquiries for transfer of household items. The bookings have increased since the past week as people are fleeing from Surat due to the corona fear,” said Lakshman Kumawat, a commercial transport operator in Surat.

Since the lockdown in March, businesses have come to a grinding halt leaving workers and their families in the lurch. Employers have no revenue source to feed their employees, though the government has advised them to pay their staff even during the lockdown.

“There is no exaggeration in saying that the situation is very grim (in Surat). The major employers in the city are textiles and diamond industries, which were mostly MSMEs. They are mostly family-managed businesses, their holding power is very fragile. They don’t have huge corpus or support from financial institutions that other corporates enjoy,” said Ajoy Bhattacharya, former President of Southern Gujarat Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

“Workers, on the other hand are without shelter and food prompting them to return to their native places,” he added.

Industry sources said while most of the migrant workforce has already returned to their native States, a large chunk of workforce in diamond and other small industries is from within Gujarat. They too have started returning — this time to never return. The industry employs over 6,00,000 workers across about 9,000 diamond cutting and polishing units.

“Over 80 per cent of workers had returned to work after the unlock-1 began in June. But since there was no demand for polished diamonds in the market, diamond unit owners paid them wages for limited work to enable them to meet their basic household expenses. But the Covid-19 cases have started going up in the city and there is a fear among workers also,” said Savji Dholakia, a prominent diamantaire in the city.

Workers hire commercial vehicles to transfer their household items and return home with their families in large groups in private buses.

Vivek Doshi, a small-time diamond trader, said workers are afraid of the infection spreading to their families. There is no credible and transparent information available to them after the positive cases started increasing in Surat city. This has spurred them to leave the city and find a safer place.

According to the Gujarat government’s health department bulletin, Surat city reported 212 positive cases and four deaths on Thursday. In Surat rural, 95 cases were reported with two deaths. So far, the total cases in Surat has touched 7,038 cases with 6,525 in Surat city alone with 255 deaths.

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Published on July 10, 2020
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