GJC seeks postponement of mandatory hallmarking implementation to June 2022 due to COVID Pandemic
All India Gem & Jewellery Domestic Council (GJC), the national apex body of the gems and jewellery industry, has written to the Department of Consumer Affairs under the Union Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food & Public Distribution to consider postponing and extending the deadline for implementation of mandatory hallmarking of gold jewellery to June 2022 instead of June 2021 due to COVID-19. Also, out of the 733 districts in the country, only 245 districts now have A&H Centres (as per BIS data) and GJC urged the BIS to ensure that there is at least one A&H Centre in each district in the country.
GJC has organised national level industry meet (over ZOOM) to discuss the issues and problems in mandatory hallmarking regime on 21st April 2021.
GJC whole-heartedly welcomed the new pro-consumer Government order dated January 15, 2020 (“Order”) issued by the Bureau of Indian Standard (“BIS”) and further amended Order dated October 9, 2020 mandating that all gold articles are required to be hallmarked and sold only by registered jewellers. However, GJC stated that it is essential to have properly accredited, fully functional A&H (Assaying & Hallmarking) Centres in all districts across the country, with proper infrastructure and trained personnel prior to the requirement of mandatory hallmarking, as per the Order.
As per the recent data taken from BIS website, there are 940 A&H Centres spread in 245 districts across India and the number of jewellers registered with BIS are 31,585. However, the percentage of districts in several key Indian States without hallmarking centres is very high. There is no presence of Hallmarking Centres in 488 districts. 66.58% of the country Area has no Hallmarking Centres. 245 districts have Hallmarking centres but they are concentrated only in and around the urban area or clusters where there is heavy concentration of jewellers. It is an admitted fact that only 8% of the entire country has the access to A&H centres. A&H Centres in rural districts of the country, where such centres are not currently present may not present entrepreneurs with commercial viability and hence there is little impetus to open an A&H Centre in such districts.
Mr. Ashish Pethe, Chairman, GJC, said, “There are various operational and procedural issues in relation to implementation of the mandatory requirement, which if unaddressed will create an obstacle for compliance of the hallmarking requirements. This will also severely affect the jewellery industry, leading to drastic consequences such as cessation of business, loss of livelihood, litigation and unnecessary waste of time and energy. Mandatory hallmarking in its current state has the potential to affect the livelihood of millions of people and will lead to huge disruption in the century’s old jewellery business. Due to COVID-19, the jewellery business is already suffering, and mandatory hallmarking should be postponed by atleast an year till the infrastructure is in place.”
BIS should consider setting up A&H Centres within a radius of 10 kms from the location of a jewellery store, said GJC. Given the on-going COVID -19 pandemic and the fact that various parts of the country continue to be in a lockdown scenario, GJC said that “we understand that establishing fully functional A&H Centres prior to the June 1,2021 seems highly unattainable. Hence, “we recommend that the implementation of the Order is postponed to June 2022 so that the infrastructural requirements are fulfilled,” said GJC in its representation.
There are many states / Union Territories where there are no A&H Centres, i.e. Arunachal Pradesh, Ladakh, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim, Andaman & Nicobar Islands, Dadra & Nagar Haveli, Daman & Diu and Lakshadweep. It is important to note that there are many registered jewellers already in some of the above-mentioned states. Given that the number of A&H Centres are noticeably low, jewellers from districts in which there are no A&H Centres, will have to transport their gold articles to the district where such centres are present. This poses an additional risk of transportation and creates a substantial risk of theft and to human life. Also, the cost involved for transportation of precious jewellery articles to the respective A&H Centres is significantly high and authentic and reliable courier services are not available in almost 80% of the districts and talukas across India.
GJC represented that the artisans and the job-workers existent in locations, which don’t have accessible A&H Centres would effectively lose their livelihood. Merely accrediting and approving A&H Centres may not simply be the solution. Such centres are required to have the relevant infrastructure, machinery and trained people. It is an undisputed fact that any A&H Centre would require at least three to four months to be commissioned. Considering the timelines for commissioning an A&H centre and the number of such centres that would be required, it must be considered whether the June 1, 2021 timeline for mandatory hallmarking is achievable. Such scarcity of A&H Centres will lead to jewellers closing their business and unemployment will be on high rise. It is therefore of paramount importance for the government and BIS to first consider the practical issues that would be faced as a result of the lack of easily accessible A&H Centres.
GJC cited several judicial precedents, which stated that adequate infrastructure including but not limited to suitable machinery, availability of staff, training staff, etc. is imperative to meet the objective of the Order to adhere to the mandatory hallmarking requirement. The Government should consider directing or ensuring that private entrepreneurs set up A&H Centres in areas where there are no A&H Centres or not adequate A&H Centres.