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Indian Jewellery Industry Rocked by Terror Attack
The November 26, 2008 terror attack on Mumbai has shaken the soul of the huge, busy city. It has also triggered a further slowdown of the economy, which was already in the throes of global recession. However, some notables of the jewellery trade who happened to be in the besieged hotels emerged virtually unscathed.
By: Diamond World News Service
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Jan 20 2009 4:08PM
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Reference: 3456  

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Mumbai’s tryst with terror on November 26, 2008 has traumatized and angered its citizens who have borne the brunt of ruthless and brutally motivated terrorism on so many occasions in the recent past. In an economy which has already been convulsed by the economic recession in the West, the terrorist attacks are virtually the last straw. The Indian jewellery industry which has been singed by an economic crunch may also be impacted by the latest terrorist strike.

After the horrible terrorist attack, on November 27, Diamond World sought the views of prominent operators of the industry. Vasant Mehta, Chairman of the Gems & Jewellery Export Promotion Council (GJEPC), opined, “There may be no direct connection, but it will hurt the economy. The flow of tourists will be reduced, thus there will be fewer purchases of jewellery. The export market will be affected, but on the domestic market we see no severe impact. GJEPC is grieved to learn about the death of the brave police officers, other ranks and innocent people who have lost their lives in this attack.” Echoing his views, Saket Mehta, partner, Sur Gems, observed, “There may be some effect in the short term but after some time the buyers will be back. I also feel that the domestic market will not be affected much.” Saunak Parikh, Director, Mahendra Brothers, endorsed this view and pointed out, “Tourism will be the biggest loser, not the jewellery industry directly. Even after 9/11 in the US there was no long term downturn. We have also observed that after such traumatic events people want to present something to their loved ones and diamonds are preferred gifts.” However, Rajiv Jain, Vice-Chairman, GJEPC, disagreed and stated emphatically that “this kind of terrorism will damage our business.” Speaking from Jaipur, he indicated that terrorism will certainly harm the jewellery business, “Because what happens in Mumbai reverberates through the world. I feel that the ill effects of this attack will be felt for at least the next six months. Like Mumbai, the tourist flow to Jaipur is already shrinking and this is going to dent our business.”

A condolence meeting was organized on November 29, 2008 evening at Prasad Chambers, in Mumbai’s famed diamond district at Opera House, by the Mumbai Diamond Merchants Association, the Bharat Diamond Bourse and the Gems and Jewellery Export Promotion Council to salute those killed in the sudden terrorist attack on the city. The meeting was attended among other notables by well-known diamantaires of the industry like Arun Mehta of Rosyblue, Ketan Parikh, Partner, Mahendra Brothers, Vikram Merchant, Manager, Rio Tinto Diamonds office in Mumbai and Sanjay Kothari, former Chairman of the GJEPC. Addressing this sombre gathering Vasant Mehta, Chairman of the GJEPC, lauded the bravery of the commandos and the policemen who were slain in the city. Mehta announced that the Gems and Jewellery Foundation would set aside Rs. 50 lakh for the welfare of those who were injured or the next-of-kin of slain personnel. He urged the industry to take up its work again with verve and élan and be fearless of any future terrorist strikes on the city. Some members of the jewellery fraternity were present at both the Taj and Oberoi-Trident hotels during the nightmare and had a providential escape. On November 26, Varda Shine, Managing Director, Diamond Trading Company (DTC), was also staying at the Taj Hotel besieged by terrorists, but escaped unharmed because she had left the hotel with a group of friends for dinner at a well-known restaurant nearby. She left for London that very night. She had come to Mumbai to address a Conference entitled –‘Meet and Greet with Varda Shine’, scheduled to be held on November 28 at the Emerald/Jade Room of the Taj Hotel. ‘Diamond World’ was also to interview her on the latest global economic downturn and the role of the De Beers Group mitigating the misfortune.

Diamond World contacted some notable members of the jewellery fraternity who happened to be present at the targeted hotels and suffered the trauma of the dastardly terrorist attack. Among them were Marc Schwalb of W. Nagel, a DTC broking company and Mark Boston, Chairman of Goldie International Ltd.

Speaking from Belgium, Schwalb described vividly the horrible terrorist siege of the Oberoi-Trident hotel at Mumbai and his subsequent rescue along with his colleague, Toni Nagel, by NSG commandos.

DW: Where were you when the terrorists stormed the hotel?

Marc: I was packing to leave the hotel when suddenly I saw two men running into the lobby with guns firing wildly at everyone they saw. They then got into the elevators. My colleague, Toni, who had come to my room to get some money to tip the staff and I then barricaded ourselves into the room. We switched on the TV and saw that a terrorist strike was in progress. We called our Indian friends who confirmed this. We were on the 19th floor.

DW: What transpired subsequently? Marc: An hour later the hotel was set on fire. Black suffocating smoke billowed into the room. To prevent suffocation, we used wet towels, put wet towels under the door, pulled off the curtains to make sure the fire didn’t spread and finally smashed two windows to be able to breathe. We were in this room for 20 hours. Our Indian friends gave us tremendous moral support. At 3 p.m. we heard gunshots on our floor and the sound of women screaming. Later we got to know that hostages had been taken to the room right opposite ours and shot! We were finally rescued by the NSG commandos who were securing the hotel room to room. We flew out on November 27.

DW: Would this incident deter you from coming to India again?

Marc: I have been interviewed by many Belgian journalists who asked the same question. I have replied firmly that I have been visiting India since 1974 and will go there again. Such attacks can take place anywhere in the world.

Mark Boston, Chairman, Goldie International Ltd.

Boston discussed the terror attack that he endured along with his wife, Milly, at the Taj hotel in graphic detail. Seated in his office in a nondescript building in central Mumbai, he calmly recounted his horrible experience and analyzed the impact it may have on the Indian jewellery industry.

Mark Boston, Chairman, Goldie International Ltd. Boston discussed the terror attack that he endured along with his wife, Milly, at the Taj hotel in graphic detail. Seated in his office in a nondescript building in central Mumbai, he calmly recounted his horrible experience and analyzed the impact it may have on the Indian jewellery industry. DW: Were you at the Taj Hotel for official meetings?

Boston: Yes, I came here for business review meetings of DTC with its Sightholders. We were going to conclude these reviews with a cocktail party on Friday, address the Sightholders and discuss the prevailing lack of confidence in the market.

DW: When did it all begin?

Boston: My wife and I had returned to our room after dining at the Lebanese restaurant when suddenly we heard the sound of gunfire. We were in the corner room on our floor and could see the front and back of the hotel. We looked out of the window and saw a tall man running into the hotel firing his machine gun. The CEO of our company rang up and told us that there had been a serious attack. Subsequently, the Taj employees came to our room and reassured us – I must say the Taj staff are excellent although very young. They were trying to keep everyone calm and displayed tremendous courage and presence of mind. In fact, one of them whose father was an army officer kept ringing him up and asking him what to do.%5 DW: How did the terrible events unfold after that?

Boston: At 2 p.m. we heard the sinister sound of gun fire and the awful noise of things crashing down. We then rushed down the narrow fire-escape along with a whole lot of people and came to the iron gates of the old Taj. We pushed the gates open and were then taken by the police to the Hotel Diplomat behind the Taj.

DW: Do you think this attack will affect the Indian jewellery industry adversely?

Boston: India and America have a good relationship which is beneficial for the jewellery industry. The diamond business is very much an Indian-American field. There is just as much terrorism risk in New York and London as there is in Mumbai. If you are nervous about coming to Mumbai, well, you can always buy diamonds on the internet ! It also depends on whether you are a pessimist or an optimist. We are in the midst of a recession and the politicians are doing what they can to remedy the situation. India is an emerging economic superpower – in the field of jewellery; its expertise, designs and skills are the best in the world. India has so much at stake to ride out this crisis.

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