Celebrating Madras week

Madras in the days of democratic socialism

I was a student until 1968. I was in the US doing my master’s in Chemical Engineering and Management Studies. When my father, T. S. Narayanaswami, passed away in 1968, I came back to Chennai and joined India Cements and some other group companies. That was the first time I was exposed to the industrial world of Chennai.

At that time, there were several leading business houses such as the Kothari Group which was into sugar and plantations, stock broking, finance etc., the Murugappa Group, the TVS Group and Shakti Sugars. Aruna Sugars had just started. There was Madras Cements. MRF was growing. Then there was India Cements and EID Parry. In a sense, Chennai had a limited number of industrial houses.

Those were the days of democratic socialism, the early 70s, and profit was a bad word actually. The public sector was supposed to occupy the commanding heights of the Indian economy, and licencing was at its peak.

In a sense, one could say that the governments, i.e. the Centre and the State, wanted job creation. But, at the same time, they frowned upon the private sector. Therefore, the concept of joint sector came in.

Until the early 90s, the country missed out on a lot of growth opportunities. Cement is an example of the success of decontrol. When there was partial decontrol of cement in 1982 and then complete decontrol in 1989, the cement industry grew to around 30 million tonnes at that time. Today, it has grown to 400 million tonnes, the second largest capacity in the world. This has taken place because of decontrol, after which the reform process allowed foreign capital to enter.

There were two distinct phases — one was the period of licensing control and the other liberalisation. In the earlier phase, no industrialist or businessmen could afford to not visit New Delhi every 10 days. Today, you don’t have to visit Delhi at all. There was only one airline — Indian Airlines — and all of us had to fight for tickets to Delhi from Chennai.

It was also a period when labour unions played a very strong role. One must understand that from being a colonial underdog, the populace in India was grasping the fundamentals of industrial manufacturing.

In the wake of substantial investments in industries and manufacturing facilities, unionism came to the fore and it took some time for both managements and labour to understand that they were both working for the same company. Today, we have an evolved class of entrepreneurs and employees.

Chennai has also walked in the same path and changed in the same fashion. We are still a strong manufacturing base but there is now a strong information technology presence.

(As told to The Hindu. N. Srinivasan is the Managing Director of The India Cements)

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Printable version | Feb 19, 2020 6:32:22 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/chennai/madras-week-guest-column-madras-in-the-days-of-democratic-socialism/article24775574.ece

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