Madurai–Thoothukudi Industrial Corridor, envisioned to attract ₹1.90 lakh crore of investments over a 10-year period, remains only on paper

The nine southern districts, which account for roughly one-fourth of the State’s population according to the 2011 Census, have been consistently ignored in terms of industrial development.

Madurai, in particular, despite being one of the four major cities in Tamil Nadu, has considerably lagged behind the other three cities of Chennai, Tiruchi, and Coimbatore in attracting industrial investments. The fact that the southern districts have in recent years developed power generation capacity through a variety of renewable and non-renewable sources, far higher than the other regions of the State, has not helped in bringing industrial projects to the region.

Owing to persistent demand, mainly from different industrial bodies in Madurai, the State government announced the creation of Madurai–Thoothukudi Industrial Corridor (MTIC). This was intended to be a big ticket infrastructure investment that would provide an impetus to industrial development in Madurai and nearby regions. However, despite an announcement and a feasibility study done nearly seven years back, the project is still in limbo.

Background

When the then Minister of Finance O. Panneerselvam, in the State Budget for 2013-14, announced the proposal for the corridor, trade bodies in south Tamil Nadu were elated to hear some good news at last. The project, with tall promises, was envisioned to attract ₹1.90 lakh crore of industrial investments over a 10-year period. The project was included in a series of high priority fast track projects in February 2013 during the first board meeting of Tamil Nadu Infrastructure Development Board.

Approval for the MTIC was provided through a Government Order dated December 19, 2014.

The project, also part of Tamil Nadu’s Industrial Policy 2014, was said to be an ‘Industrial Corridor of Excellence,’ providing facilities such as excellent road and rail connectivity, specific investment regions and other industrial and social infrastructure such as townships, schools and hospitals.

As per the second phase of Vision Tamil Nadu 2023 document, released by late Chief Minister Jayalalithaa, the project was to entail 18 ‘Trunk’ infrastructure projects and a series of ‘Link and Internal Infrastructure’ projects. The ‘Link and Internal Infrastructure’ was to include industries from different sectors such as textiles, garments, leather, cement, plastic, electrical and auto component industries, particularly in Madurai.

The trunk investment projects include the expansion of roads, establishing Madurai-Coimbatore High Speed Rail Link Project (230 km), expansion of Madurai airport and establishing Madurai as a special tourism zone.

The trunk investments also focus on health through the establishment of quality nursing and paramedical training institutes, specialised centre of excellence in cancer treatment and additional medical facilities. They also look to hone local talent through skill development institutes and employment development centres.

After more than five years in waiting, in November 2018, Minister for Industries M.C. Sampath announced at a meeting that the MTIC would now be an ancillary project of the much larger Chennai-Kanniyakumari Industrial Corridor. He said that the project would include two nodes – Madurai–Virudhunagar–Dindigul–Theni (MVDT) and Tirunelveli–Thoothukudi (TT).

Mr. Sampath said that Asian Development Bank had already begun the process of sanctioning funds for the initiative and that the government was planning to acquire 19,615 acres of land. He added that the acquisition process for 5,000 acres was already under way.

Predicaments

Senior president of Tamil Nadu Chamber of Commerce and Industry S. Rethinavelu says lack of political pressure from MPs and the State government for establishing the corridor has led to the project remaining a non-starter. Delay in implementation of Madurai airport expansion project with extended runway and poor international connectivity have also resulted in Madurai region not attracting big investments.

K. P. Murugan, president of Madurai District Tiny and Small-Scale Industries Association (MADITSSIA), says the land acquisition process is slow. “Madurai-Aruppukottai-Ettayapuram-Thoothukudi stretch does not possess much cultivable lands. Land acquisition should not pose a problem as most of the lands are government poramboke,” he says.

Confederation of Indian Industry (Madurai Zone) chairman K. Nagaraj say work on the project is slowly and steadily progressing. However, he adds that more fiscal incentives need to be provided to entice foreign investors. There is a need for better social infrastructure – schools, conference halls, colleges and hospitals to attract more talent to settle here. “It’s a chicken and egg kind of situation though. Some others believe that the presence of industries will bring more such infrastructure,” he says.

The slow pace of the project has resulted in migration of talent to Chennai, Bengaluru and other industrial cities such as Tiruppur and Coimbatore, says Mr. Murugan.

Another cost of the snail-paced implementation is that Madurai continues to lag behind other major cities in Tamil Nadu, says Mr. Rethinavelu. “It seems like there is a lobby working against Madurai. This can only be fixed if there is enough representation from our politicians,” he feels.

Mr. Murugan adds that appointing a dedicated IAS officer for the project till its completion will help in fast tracking it.

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