Mumbai’s famous jewellery markets Zaveri Bazaar and the adjoining Dagina Bazaar wore a deserted look on Monday as bullion traders and jewellers observed a token day-long strike to protest against the government’s ‘anti-business’ policies.

The nation-wide strike call, given by India Bullion & Jewellers Association (IBJA), formerly Bombay Bullion Association, found resonance with associations in Mumbai, Maharashtra and Kolkata.

“The ‘black day’ strike has been successful but clearly government has to take some steps to rectify the situation,” Surendra Mehta, Secretary, IBJA, told The Hindu, adding that 90 per cent bullion traders in Mumbai, Maharashtra and Kolkata observed the strike.

Harish Soni, Chairman, All India Gem & Jewellery Traders’ Federation (AIGJTF), estimated the industry loss due to the strike to be around Rs.1,000 crore.

Vinod Jain, President, Mumbai Wholesale Gold Jewellers’ Association, representing 340 members in Zaveri Bazaar, said that because of government policies, gold smuggling was high. The Finance Ministry admitted to smuggling, being 1-3 tonnes a month, but World Gold Council put it at 200 tonnes in 2013.

Mr. Jain felt that the situation had degenerated into a human resource problem as “several lakh artisans and job workers are unemployed due to paucity of gold in the market. Most of them have returned to their villages mainly in West Bengal and Gujarat”.

Speedy customs clearance

Besides easing restrictions such as 10 per cent import duty on gold and the 80:20 scheme, which requires the gold importer to export a fifth of the imported gold, the industry wants speedy clearance of gold consignments at customs and an end to harassment they are subject to by the authorities.

“There is little gold stock in the market. In their enthusiasm to take on smugglers, authorities conduct raids on dealers and ask for the source of gold to ensure stocks meet the records. This is harassment,” Mr. Mehta said, adding, “we need an accurate policy that deals with industry’s problems and helps tackle illegal trade”.

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