Deaf and mute: Gitanjali Gems staff lose livelihood

The salary accounts of all employees have been frozen since Monday

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Mehul Choksi

Of the hundreds of employees of Gitanjali Gems left in the lurch after the stores shut down, the employees with special needs face a tougher road ahead than others. Madhukar Sawant, Sushant Kate, Ashish Mistry, and Yogesh Mahadik are hearing and speech impaired, and have been working as tagging agents with the firm for more than 10 years. All of them are the sole breadwinners of their families, and many have handicapped spouses as well.

On Friday, they gathered along with nearly 400 other employees to protest the Enforcement Directorate's decision to seal the jewellery stores in connection with the Punjab National Bank (PNB) scam outside Gitanjali's office in (Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation) MIDC Andheri. The salary accounts of all employees have been frozen since Monday.

However, they didn't know what was happening until a colleague explained the situation to them.

Both Mehul Choksi – the owner of Gitanjali Gems — and his nephew, businessman Nirav Modi, are accused of a Rs 11,400 crore scam. The Enforcement Directorate had raided five jewellery units at the special economic zone in Raviryala village and confiscated their stocks before sealing the place.

Colleagues explained to Sawant, Kate, Mistry and Mahadik that their company was being shut down that they were here to demand that the government either reopen the unit or provide them with alternative employment. All four tagged ornaments with their price and weight details.

"They are very hard-working and dedicated employees," said one colleague. "They used to tag 1,000 items in one hour." All four have been working at Gitanjali's Andheri store for more than 10 years, but have not received a salary for the past two months.

"I have been working at Gitanjali for 12 years," Mahadik told DNA using sign language, "and now I don't know what to do. I have a three-year-old son and don't know how to pay his school fees. My wife is also handicapped."

Mahadik says the company has not contributed towards his provident fund (PF) either. "I don't know who will give me, and others like me, a job now," he said.

The employees have written to authorities at MIDC to coerce Gitanjali to release their PF, gratuity, and salaries.

All the protesting employees are understandably stressed about the future. "We did not have any idea about what was happening," says Sunita Thakur. "No one even told us anything. Now we all are jobless, and new positions are being offered to us with half the current salary. We don't know what to do."

"No one forced us to resign," said another employee. "We are resigning of our own accord."

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