The July bombings that rattled Mumbai’s diamond district might also spur the tradition-bound industry to relocate to a new fortress-like center in the suburbs. By Mark Magnier, Los Angeles Times September 19, 2011
|Police move crowds along near a bomb blast site at Opera House in Mumbai, India, on July 18. The country’s
diamond-cutting and -polishing industry is based mainly in the surrounding neighborhood. (Indranil Mukherjee / AFP/Getty Images)
When three bombs tore through Mumbai in July, the blasts scattered scores of diamonds being carried by traders as
they rushed to safe deposit boxes on their way home. After frantic panning of drains, sewers and monsoon puddles, about 65 were recovered. […] The coordinated bombings, which killed 26 people in the biggest attack against India’s financial capital since late 2008, when a three-day siege killed 166, also staggered the country’s diamond-cutting and polishing industry, the world’s largest.
[…] One effect of the attack may be a move that the insular, tradition-bound industry has resisted: an accelerated relocation to the fortress-like Bharat Diamond Bourse — Bharat means “India” in Hindi — in suburban Mumbai. “Most of the diamond industry is allergic to change,” said Anoop V. Mehta, the bourse’s president. “This business is still old-fashioned, done with a shake of the hand. They haven’t moved on.”
The multibillion-dollar industry still transacts million-dollar deals in rabbit-hutch offices around Opera House, a dilapidated British Raj-era music hall, with brokers haggling over gems on sidewalks below.
Diamonds worth a fortune are carried in vest pockets by unarmed, shabby-looking couriers mostly from Gujarat state, north of Mumbai, from families so interwoven that few dare steal anything because the community opprobrium would be so great.
Despite calls to upgrade security around Opera House, it has remained haphazard even after the attack. A deliveryman glides past a checkpoint with a stack of dented lunchboxes known as tiffins — investigators believe one of the bombs at another gem market was hidden in a tiffin — as workers genuflect to an elephant god statue in the main Panchratna building lobby beside a beeping but
ignored metal detector. […]
Many traders live near Opera House and bridle at the suburbs’ inconvenience and higher rents. And despite its size, even at full capacity, the bourse could handle only 2,500 of the industry’s estimated 5,500 companies. […]
Traditionalists counter that Indian family connections and global diaspora will keep India’s trade ahead of competitors for years to come. “It’s also a business built on trust,” said Harshad Shah, 52, a diamond broker who was standing near the Opera House blast site. “People don’t trust the Chinese. You can’t do business with them on a handshake.”