A nationwide strike called by 350-odd jewellers' associations to protest the central government's new gold hallmarking rules went off peacefully and evoked "strong response" on Monday, amid conflicting claims by protesting jewellers and the government over its success.
One of the protesting jewellers' body All India Gem and Jewellery Domestic Council (GJC) claimed the strike received a "strong response" as most jewellery shops, barring big corporates, remained shut on Monday in response to a nationwide strike.
On the other hand, the government -- in a release -- said the strike has had "no impact", while also releasing copies of letters of some jewellers' bodies which opposed the strike.
It even released photos of showrooms of jewellery companies like Tanishq, Kalyan Jewellers and PC Jewellers that remained open on the day of strike.
The 350-odd jewellery bodies are against the government's Hallmarking Unique ID (HUID) system which they said has nothing to do with the purity of gold but is just a tracking mechanism.
These jewellers, which have formed a 'national taskforce' for smooth implementation of hallmarking, have demanded the government to form a 'neutral committee' to address the concerns of the stakeholders.
Speaking to PTI, one of the protesting jewellery body All India Gem and Jewellery Domestic Council (GJC) Director Dinesh Jain said, "There was a very strong and overwhelming response to a nationwide strike against the HUID system." Shops were closed for a day. Big corporates in the jewellery sector never participate in such strikes. Mostly individual and family-run jewellery shops in all four zones were shut for a day, he said.
"The strike went off peacefully. We followed all COVID-19 protocols. Except for a few corporates, 90 per cent stakeholders participated in the strike," he said.
However in Tamil Nadu and Kerala where due to Onam festival the shops were shut for half a day till 12.30 pm, he added.
Waman Hari Pethe Jewellers Director Aditya Pethe said, "A lot of jewellery houses including us have kept the stores shut on August 23 in support of strike. We hope the government modifies the roll-out plans so that it is a win-win situation for all the parties." For instance in Gujarat, over 15,000 jewellers kept their businesses shut.
In Ahmedabad alone, nearly 6,000 shops and showroom owners joined the strike demanding a simpler hallmarking process, claimed Jigar Soni, President of Jewellers' Association of Ahmedabad.
Besides Ahmedabad, all prominent jewellery markets in Rajkot and various other cities also wore a deserted look since morning as shops remained closed.
Industry stakeholders claimed that around 4,000 units in Rajkot and 3,500 shops and showrooms in the entire south Gujarat, including Surat, remained shut.
Hundreds of jewellers in other parts of the state also extended their support and refrained from opening their outlets, they said.
Similarly in Jammu, jewellers shut their businesses and staged a demonstration seeking intervention from Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The Sarafa Association Jammu Province and Swarankar Sangh Adhoc Committee Jammu jointly staged the peaceful protest at Jain Bazar, the main jewellery market in the old city, raising slogans against "arbitrary implementation" of HUID.
Mandatory gold hallmarking, a purity certification of the precious metal, has come into force from June 16 in a phased manner. The government has identified 256 districts from 28 states and union territories for the phase-1 implementation.
Last week, Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) Director General Pramod Kumar Tiwari had urged jewellers' bodies to call off the strike, saying gold hallmarking implementation has so far been a "grand success." BIS is implementing a gold hallmarking system in the country.
Meanwhile, the Consumer Affairs Ministry in a statement said, "The strike called by a very small section of jewellers has had no impact." The said call of strike was itself based on "untenable grounds" and "an attempt was made to misinform fellow jewellers" about the various provisions of the hallmarking scheme, it said.
"As expected, the misguided attempt by these limited set of persons to disrupt the normal functioning of jewellery business today has failed miserably," it added.
Meanwhile, the ministry also released copies of letters of jewellers' bodies -- All India Jewellers and Goldsmith Federation (AJGF), Swanakaar Sabha, Gems and Jewellery Manufacturer Association Organisation (GJMA), Sarva Swarnkaar Samaj Netrutva Vikas Sanstha which opposed the strike and supported the HUID system.
For instance, AJGF National President Pankaj Arora, in the letter, claimed that the strike had a "partial effect." "Particularly few of the big jewellery traders and corporate jewellers remained closed. Since there was no justification for the strike, the jewellery traders across the country rejected the strike," he said.
Arora further said "some big and corporate jewellers do not want the government to know what their business activities (and) have given a call of strike due to their vested interests".
On the contrary, big corporate jewellery showrooms like Tanishq, Kalyan Jewellers, Malabar Gold and Diamonds, PC Jewellers -- remained open on Monday as per the photos released by the ministry.
The ministry released photos of some jewellers' shops which remained open in different parts of the country.
PP Jewellers, Heera Panna Jewellers, Talwarsons Jewellers, Lalchnd, Epari Sadashiv Jewellers, Caratlane -- also remained open as per the photos released by the ministry.
According to the ministry, gold hallmarking is being adopted by a record number of consumers each day. More than 1 crore pieces of jewellery have been hallmarked in a few weeks.
"A great many associations of the jewellery business have also voiced their concern and opposition to the idea of going on strike," it said.
Asserting that gold hallmarking is in the interest of both consumers as well as businesses, the ministry reiterated that it has always been open to constructive suggestions that will help in implementation of mandatory gold hallmarking that has come into force from June 16 in a phased manner.
"Vested interests who fear for the end of decades old opaque and possibly business practices, should come forward with open heart and embrace the change like others," it added.
But many of the jewellers expressed concern over the new gold hallmarking rules, especially HUID.
Anmol Jewellers Director Ishu Datwani said, "While we welcome Hallmarking being mandatory with open arms we completely oppose HUID." HUID will not only increase a lot of work for which more clerical staffing will be required but it is also not in the scope of things as far as BIS is concerned and it slows down the whole process of hallmarking, he said.
"No amount of relaxation in HUID pleases us and as an industry we expect the Government to abolish it completely," he noted.
Pooja Diamonds Director Shrey Mehta said, "HUID will also have a negative effect on the industry and its progress. There will be a lot of accounting and data privacy issues that will come with it." According to protesting jewellers' bodies, the earlier process of gold hallmarking was better than the new HUID system which is against the principle of 'ease of doing business'.
Jewellers' bodies fear that the government may use the data being uploaded in the name of the new HUID system to crackdown on jewellers for any mismatch in stock that's been hallmarked and sold.
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