By Sangeeta Singh
New Delhi: The Indian government wants to make sure that the 24-carat gold you paid for is indeed 24-carats.
Frustrated with very few of India’s 300,000 gold shops signing up for a voluntary stamp of approval, the government has decided it will make certification by the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) mandatory for all jewellers in India.
Jewellers who don’t get their gold wares authenticated by independent BIS-certified assessors will soon be committing a punishable offence.
The ministry of consumer affairs confirmed that it is working out what action could be initiated against offending jewellers.
And to make sure India’s gold-hungry consumers are aware of this new move, the government is planning mass-media campaigns, said Y. Bhave, secretary of the department of consumer affairs.
It is unclear how this mandate would address all complaints. Typically a jeweller takes a sample to a BIS certified assessor and based on that, gets a stamp of approval for all products sold by that store.
However, “mere certification will not do”, says Vijay Khanna, a Delhi jeweller who is also a member of the BIS committee in charge of certification processes. He says that even after getting certified, jewellers could pass off other gold jewelry without having to get everything in the store certified.
India is the largest consumer of gold in the world with an annual demand of 800 tonnes. Of this, 80% is sold in the form of jewellery with gold of varying purity-levels used in products such as bangles and chains. While there have been some nascent efforts to brand gold jewellery, the bulk of the buyers patronize local establishments depending on word of mouth or trust built across generations of transactions between their family and that of the jeweller.
The lack of a single standard is a significant consumer issue. A random check conducted by the ministry in 16 cities last year revealed that in many cases, the carat value was upto 45% lower than that promised by jewellers.
Typically, 24-carat gold is the purest but is too soft for the purposes of making jewellery so most most jewellers prefer 22-carat.
Until now, the government has had a voluntary sign-up program for the BIS certification, dubbed ‘hallmark’, a term used in the bullion industry to indicate purity of the gold.
But in the past six years, just 2,800 jewellers had signed up, of which 1,400 did so in the last six months of 2006, following widely publicized random checks by the ministry.