If pearls and Tuticorin are synonymous to each other, it is the presence of a port here that gives the place a well known address. Open any general knowledge book, you will surely find a question pertaining to this “Port or Pearl Town”. Call it by its Tamil name – Thoothukudi – or the anglicized name of the Dutch – Tuticorin, the district remains famous for multiple things and its fame is widespread. About 550 kms South West of Chennai and geographically located in the Gulf of Mannar, Thoothukudi was carved out from the erstwhile district of Tirunelveli in 1986.

Almost a quarter of a Century’s existence as an independent district has seen Thoothukudi emerge as a nerve centre of brisk economic activity in south Tamil Nadu. It is now poised for a big tourism leap too.

Situated in the extreme South East corner of Tamil Nadu and bound by Tirunelveli and Virudhunagar in the north, Ramanathapuram in the East, Gulf of Mannar in the South-east and on the West and south West by Tirunelveli, for Centuries Thoothukudi buzzed with activity as the centre for maritime trade and pearl fishery.

Spread over 4621 sq.km, it has been traditionally exploited for natural pearls from time immemorial. A field laboratory was set up in 1972 in Veppalodai by the Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute (CMFRI) to start an experimental project in pearl culture.

Thoothukudi also turned into the citadel of the Indian independence movement in the early 20th century, with leaders like Maaveeran Sundaralinga Kudumbanar and Vadivu, world’s first man and woman suicide bomber ,poet Subramanya Bharathy, Veerapandia Kattabomman, Vellaya Thevan, and V.O. Chidambaram Pillai, emerging from here. In 1906, the freedom fighter V. O. Chidambaram Pillai, with the help of Bal Gangadhar Tilak, launched the first Swadeshi ship "S.S. Gaelia" from this port town in British India.

The then minor Port of Tuticorin had a flourishing trade handling a variety of cargoes meant for the neighbouring countries of Sri Lanka, Maldives etc. and the coastal regions of India.

The Tuticorin Port happens to be one of the oldest sea ports in the world dating back to the 6th Century. Replete with maritime history, Thoothukudi was ruled by various dynasties like the Pandyas and the Cholas. Apparently, it was the seaport of the Pandyan kingdom after Korkai and later was taken over by the Portuguese in 1548, captured by the Dutch in 1658, and ceded to the British administration in 1825.

The natural harbour and the rich hinterland of Tuticorin Port prompted the East Indian Company to plan the development of the harbour. The lighthouse built in 1842 marked the beginning of the history of Thoothukudi harbour development and in 1868 it was declared a minor anchorage port.

Tuticorin Port is a great catalyst for the tourism industry. Being the closest Indian Port to the Port of Colombo, it is expected that the Cruise vessels calling at Colombo would consider calling at Tuticorin Port also. The Ministry of Shipping has included Tuticorin Port in the Western circuit of cruise service along with Mumbai, Goa, New Mangalore and Kochi for the growth of tourism.

A new ferry has been commenced between Tuticorin and Colombo along with a new passenger Terminal with a seating capacity of 300 passengers.

The economy is based on industries, port, salt pans, and agriculture. The district constitutes 70% of the total salt production of the State and meets 30% requirement of the country. There are two Industrial Estates, at Kovilpatti with 11 units and

Thoothukudi with 20 units. Small Industries such as match industries, food-based and metal-based industries are mostly concentrated in Thoothukudi District besides a host of other industries including power, chemicals, fisheries and IT. The Tata Steel has plans for a titanium dioxide project in Tuticorin at a project outlay of about Rs.2,500 crore.

A matter of pride is the 74 per cent effective literacy rate (excluding children in the age group one to six years). Educational institutions in the area are high and reputed.

They include 12 Arts and Science Colleges, one each for Medical, Agriculture, Fisheries and Special Education and three Engineering colleges. There are also 1076 Primary schools, 284 Middle schools, 73 High Schools, 97 Higher Secondary Schools, three Teachers Training Colleges and two Government Polytechnic, including the one running exclusively for girls from 1982 and named after the greatest Tamil poet Subramania Bharathiyar. In health too, the district shows formidable statistics with ten big hospitals, 47 Primary Health Centres, 249 Health Sub Centres, 1072 beds in hospitals and dispensaries, 196 doctors and 158 nurses. Blessed with historical heritage and endowed with places of tourist attraction in its hinterland. Though industries galore here, few have some landmarks to state.

PSTS Logistics Limited - rendering professional service with a personal touch is the 67 year old PSTS in the Logistics Industry. Focussed on the current and future needs of the customer, this shipping logistic service provider in Tuticorin has moved with the times to emerge as the sole provider of customized and complete solutions.

They cover the entire gamut from shipping and chartering to Stevedoring, Custom House Agency, clearing& forwarding, Over Dimensional Cargo handling, Transportation, CFS Management, packaging, Heavy Equipment Hiring and trading, Ware Housing ,Wagon Handling , Rail Freight and Freight Forwarding.

“PSTS now offers logistics services not only in the East Coast Ports – Vizag, Chennai apart from Tuticorin, it has now extended to Kochi and Bangalore” says Mr.T.Uday Sankar, Chairman and Managing Director. At Tuticorin, PSTS has been particularly successful in initiating the lightening cargo in “Bulk” anchorage off the Port, it handled the very first vessel – MV Chennai Ookam ,that berthed at new Port of Tuticorin in 1975. The group also holds the world record for handling the largest shipment of granite [9,107 MT] in a single day by MV Leeds Castle in May 2007.

Dhrangadhra Chemical Works Ltd.( DCW Ltd) into its golden jubilee year is one of the biggest chlor-alkali manufacturing units in Asia. Started in 1958, it was the first of its kind in the Tuticorin industrial belt. Since then, DCW Ltd. has been contributing to the development and welfare of the people of Arumuganeri, Autoor and other nearby villages. It got the coveted ISO 9001 OSHAS 18001 and EMS 14001 certification for manufacturing varied chemical products like Titanium Di-Oxide which is solely export-oriented. DCW also produces and uses Captive Power for its entire operations.

VVD & Sons is another known company for its coconut oil that assures purity, quality. During pre-independence days, the raw material, coconut was brought from Ceylon as there was no production of coconut oil in entire Tamil Nadu.

In 1942 late V.V. Dhanushkoti Nadar commissioned the State’s first coconut oil factory by procuring coconuts from the districts of Madurai, Thanjavur, Ramnad.

And ever since, the business has grown with redesigning of the products periodically. The company has plans to launch Virgin Coconut Oil soon.

- Soma Basu