Lok Sabha Election 2019

Two SEZs do little to address the problem of unemployment

In spite of having seven reservoirs, the constituency faces severe water scarcity

The promise has always been there. But development hasn't come yet. Tirunelveli Lok Sabha constituency is a classic example of the development dilemma that faces southern Tamil Nadu.

Although sanctioned with two Special Economic Zones – Multiproduct Special Economic Zone at Nanguneri and Information Technology Special Economic Zone at Gangaikondan – there is no sign of the SEZs taking off in a big way even after 15 years. Lack of opportunities is driving the educated youth, both skilled and semi-skilled, to move to the metros or the Coimbatore-Tiruppur belt, in search of livelihood.

While the Nanguneri Multiproduct SEZ, for which 2,600 acres of land was acquired in 2001, has less than 10 small manufacturing units, not a single software company has opened office at the IT-SEZ at Gangaikondan even 13 years after its formation. While the industrial estate at Valliyoor is defunct, the MSMEs at the Gangaikondan Industrial Growth Centre function mostly with contract workers from north India.

Although unemployment has been the primary reason for caste clashes in the district in the past, there is a feeling among residents that successive MPs have not taken any step to solve the problem. The failure to create employment in the region could reflect in the polls against the ruling AIADMK–BJP combine, say observers.

Cause for clashes

“Lack of jobs is the primary reason behind sporadic clashes among different communities and spurt in crime in this region, where skilled and semi-skilled workforce is abundantly available, thanks to the good number of leading educational institutions here,” says M.A. Britto, a social activist working against the ‘Sumangali’ scheme in vogue in the spinning mills.

V. Ponnuraj, a retired professor, said candidates should realise the region’s past glory and strive to revive that golden era by bringing more industries to create jobs on a large scale. “Besides invigorating the two SEZs, Tirunelveli, with vast stretches of unused lands, should be part of the Thoothukudi–Madurai Industrial Corridor,” Prof. Ponnuraj added.

Another major grievance is the failure of successive governments to execute projects to store surplus water of the Tamirabharani by building check-dams across the perennial river which would have solved the drinking water crisis and irrigated ranches close to the river.

Of the 11 irrigation dams in Tirunelveli district, the Lok Sabha constituency houses seven reservoirs. Neither the reservoirs nor the major irrigation channels have been desilted properly for decades, say farmers. Consequently, irrigated land under cultivation has shrunk by 5,000 acres in the past five years.

“The ailing agrarian sector should be revived by desilting the dams and irrigation channels and introducing more agro-based value addition industries,” Prof. Ponnuraj says.

The AIADMK regime’s “step-motherly attitude” in not expediting the Tamirabharani – Karumaeniyar – Nambiyar linking project to take surplus water of the Tamirabharani to the dry regions of Nanguneri, Thisaiyanvilai, Radhapuram and Sattankulam in Thoothukudi district will certainly be a major poll issue in Tirunelveli and nearby Thoothukudi. While the DMK initiated the scheme, the AIADMK did not take it forward in the past eight years, the farmers allege. The introduction of GST has hit the beedi industry which employs over two lakh women.

As voters from Nadar community encompass more than 25% of the electorate, all major political parties have fielded Christian Nadar candidates this time.

Speaking to The Hindu, AIADMK candidate Paul Manoj Pandian and DMK candidate Gnana Thiraviam said they would get investments and create jobs.

Michael Rayappan of the AMMK ticket and Vennimalai of Makkal Needhi Maiam, promise to complete the river-linking project by getting timely release of adequate funds.

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Printable version | Jun 5, 2020 10:12:07 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/elections/lok-sabha-2019/two-sezs-do-little-to-address-the-problem-of-unemployment/article26751304.ece

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