With budget announcement of “self-sustainable industrial growth corridor” on Madurai-Tuticorin highway

The recent announcement of the Finance Minister, O. Panneerselvam, while presenting the revised State budget for 2011-12, that a "self-sustainable industrial growth corridor" would come up on the Madurai-Tuticorin highway has revived hopes of placing the growth of the southern districts on the fast track. Mr. Panneerselvam had announced that a detailed project report, which identified suitable locations for a manufacturing business investment region, agribusiness investment region, knowledge hubs and a special tourism zone, had been prepared. The corridor would come up through public-private partnership.

With a growth trajectory dipping following an eminently forgettable series of caste clashes in the 1990s and a negative image projected by the media, especially cinema, the region has been crying for development in the last few decades. With loads of reports submitted by successive committees in the last decade, many announcements have been made to rerail development. But the latest from the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam Government is positive and promising in nature as sufficient home work has been done before coming out with the proposal, feel captains of the industry. The decision to involve the private sector in the growth plan has also enthused the region as there is every possibility of seeing light at the end of the tunnel.

A report on ‘Industrialisation of southern districts -- the unexplored opportunity,' prepared by Scope e-Knowledge Center at the initiative of the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), came out with a blueprint for growth of south Tamil Nadu. The report was based on demographics and key economic indicators of 2003. In the last eight years, much water has flown down the Vaigai and the Tamirabarani.

The Madurai-Tuticorin industrial corridor will be a physical link between an airport of international standards and a port with a potential to emerge as an international hub of sea trade. The CII report, released as part of Southern Prosperity Through Enhanced Economic Development (SPEED) initiative, envisaged the industrial development of the Madurai-Tuticorin industrial corridor as Madurai emerging as a key hub for manufacturing in the northern end and Tuticorin as a key export-cum-services hub in the southern end, separated by a distance of 135 km. The report noted that Madurai had the potential to transform into a manufacturing hub and as a gateway to the knowledge (Tirunelveli) and tourism (Sivaganga and Kanyakumari) hubs. It is "eminently suited to fulfil this role and act as the engine driving the industrialisation and economic advancement of the region. Strategically situated to serve the entire region, including adjoining States, Madurai needs but limited investment from the State Government to catalyse this development process." "Madurai can trigger the knowledge corridor, which can wind through Virudhunagar and get anchored in Tirunelveli where the raw material for ITES/BPO sector is found in abundance."

The report recommended the creation of a Special Economic Zone, besides encouraging large, medium and small industries, in Tuticorin to make it a thriving export hub. "Strategically situated to serve the east and the west, Tuticorin needs sizeable initial investments from the government to attract domestic and foreign investors. With a bustling port and rapidly growing import and export trade, a services hub can then develop encompassing logistics, warehousing, shipping, ship repair, cruise tourism and ferry service." The CII report went on to state that the export-cum-services hub in Tuticorin would have spin off benefits in Ramanathapuram and Kanyakumari, with development of satellite industrial clusters.

The activities recommended for the corridor are manufacturing (textiles, auto,rubber, agro and marine); services (IT and knowledge-based ITES/BPO and port-based services); new export markets (printing, engineering design, mechatronics and biotechnology) and tourism (cultural, heritage, medical and eco tourism).

Southern gateway

Madurai being the gateway to the southern hinterland, there is once again a revival of hope in the ancient city, which again heard many announcements in the last five years. Even after the inauguration of a world class terminal at the airport, it is looking to the skies for international flights.

The civic administration succeeded in shifting the flower, paddy and vegetable markets from the heart of the city to its outskirts with a clear objective to decongest traffic. The declaration of the Chithirai Streets around the Meenakshi Sundareswarar Temple as "vehicle-free zone" led to a fall in pollution levels. But the level of traffic congestion has not come down as follow up measures like creation of parking lots were not taken up. Some of the tourism initiatives, mooted in the first decade of the current century have been completed. The Thousand Pillared Hall at the Meenakshi Temple is a visitor's delight. The massive temple cars glow even in the night, with solar lighting, inside glass cases. The area around the temple presents a green look and is out of bounds for vandals. Taking a walk around the Chithirai Streets is a joyful exercise. The Heritage Walk is now a regular activity with participants exploring rediscovering the richness of Madurai's culture and heritage every fortnight. "The Heritage Walk can become a permanent fixture in the tourist calendar of Madurai and we need to develop a viable business model by involving private players," says Ligi George, former chairman, CII, Madurai Zone. The flower market is now a tourist destination. The four-lane track has significantly cut down travel time to many southern destinations and the nearest international airport in Tiruchi.

Development seems to have taken a pause in between. With its human resources, low land cost and available infrastructure, Madurai was tipped to emerge as the leader among tier II cities in attracting investments in the information technology sector. The IT Park at Ilanthaikulam, inaugurated weeks before the Assembly election, has no visitors. IT majors, who showed initial enthusiasm, backtracked, with Sathyam withdrawing its payment. The other IT Park at Vadapalanji shows no sign of even construction activity. A big ticket investment has been eluding the region for long.

Chicken and egg

Can a big ticket investment alone trigger growth? This question has been asked in different forums in Madurai and an answer to this was provided by R. Dinesh, vice-chairman, CII-Tamil Nadu, in his address at a conference held on August 21. He felt that the chicken-and-egg syndrome could be broken by creating a supply chain in the region, which would attract big investments. Officials of Honda Motors expressed the same opinion in an industrial meet when they said that though they were impressed with the work culture of Madurai their units were located only around supply chains. The government has already come out with a proposal to launch a skill development programme for students of arts and science colleges and industrial training institutes through the

Tamil Nadu Skill Development Mission. The SIDCO Chairman, Mohan Pyare, said that if the industry association came up with specific proposals for the development of Madurai-Tuticorin industrial corridor they would be actively considered. With the power scenario bound to improve in the coming months, there is every chance of the corridor concept getting effect, feels the industry.

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