Surat. The diamond city is bursting at the seams, the surtis (the local population) have dwindled to 30 per cent of the growing population, a major chunk of their textile business has gone into the hands of the Punjabis and Marwaris. Yet the day the Union Railway Minister added another direct train between Bihar and Surat to the existing four, there was widespread approval.
Migrants form approximately 70 per cent of the population. They work in the two major industries here — textile and diamond. People dismiss all discussions on the issue with: “If they (the outsiders) have progressed, so have we. We are even ready to welcome the North Indians driven out of Mumbai,” said a diamond merchant with a laugh. But there is a shortage of labour in the city that boasts of zero unemployment, said Pradeep Chaudhary, who had moved from Kolkatta to Surat in the 1980s to set up Pratibha natural dying and processing unit.
There are migrants from each and every village in the country here: 10 lakh from Maharashtra, 12 lakh from UP, Bihar, Andhra Pradesh, Orissa , Rajasthan. Of the 34 lakh voters, 18 lakh were outsiders, says CR Patil, BJP leader, and a textile businessman.
However, the city of over 400 slum pockets is grappling with a different problem — AIDS and a spiralling crime rate. Room no. 35 of the SMIMER hospital is the meeting ground for HIV victims.
Every month, there are 40 HIV positive patients, of which only two per cent are locals, said Rasik K Bhura, president of the Network of Surat People Living with HIV/AIDS. He too had come to Surat from Saurashtra for diamond cutting in 1993. ‘Bahri Sambandh’ is the root cause of HIV among migrants.
To check the problem of rising crime, Police Commissioner RS Brar said: “We have told factories to provide details of each and every migrant employed by them. Landlords have also been told to provide details of their domestic help. This helps solve cases otherwise outsiders can commit crime and flee.”
However, Sonali of Lok Vikas Sansthan wants the government to frame a policy for migrants. “They are faceless people, with no identity and thus deprived of government sponsored welfare schemes. They have no civil rights, no bank accounts. Cities, too, don’t know how to handle the huge inflow,” she said.