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A one-stop tech shop

Print edition : Jan 13, 2006 T+T-
At the Leela Group's garment unit in the International Apparel Park in Thiruvananthapuram.-BY SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

At the Leela Group's garment unit in the International Apparel Park in Thiruvananthapuram.-BY SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

KINFRA, Kerala's nodal agency for infrastructure development, extends a helping hand to new entrants, from conceptualising to commissioning - then steps aside to watch them do good work.

KERALA is home to an increasingly diverse blend of manufacturing and knowledge industries that produce everything from banana chips to computer chips. This is perhaps why the State's nodal agency to kick-start such activities, the Kerala Industrial Infrastructure Development Corporation (KINFRA), has created no less than 17 theme-based parks across the length of the "green and pleasant land", in just over a decade.

Quite a few of them are the first of their kind in India, such as the Food Processing Park at Kakkancherry in Malappuram district, created in 2003 with help from the Union Ministry of Food Processing Industries. The KINFRA International Apparel Park (KIAP) at Thumba, near the State capital, is another national trendsetter. It was set up with assistance from the Union Ministry of Textiles. And when the KINFRA Film and Video Park came up on 75 acres of stunningly positioned slopes at Kazhakuttam near Thiruvananthapuram, it was a concept that again broke the mould - the country's first integrated one-stop shop for the infotainment industry.

Small islands within these parks have in recent months been accorded the status of Special Economic Zones (SEZs), allowing KINFRA to enter into understandings with private partners to create export-oriented units within the larger entities. The latest, the SEZ for animation and gaming, is nearing completion at Kazhakuttam and is likely to see at least half a dozen leading players set up shop during 2006 in this new and fast growing niche of the entertainment-information technology convergence.

In fact, the Film and Video Park is already home to some cutting edge cross-over technology, where traditional, film-based cinema production is slowly heading in new digital directions. The largest outfit here is Prasad Labs, which now process all their Malayalam language films within the park, having successfully shifted this activity from Chennai over the past three years. They are planning to install a tele-cine unit which will facilitate the conversion of film into digital format for "non-linear" editing. The days of cranking the movieola and cutting physical strips of celluloid are clearly over. Near by, Murali Nair is racing to commission his digital post-production studio. For his own future productions, the film maker who shot to fame with his maiden feature film Marana Simhasanam (Throne of Death), which won the Camera d'Or at the 1999 Cannes Film Festival, has decided to go digital. "High Density television is already the way to go for television films. So it makes sense for me to shoot and edit my features digitally," he said. A veteran of the shoestring film budget, Murali Nair hopes his new facility will be of service to budding film-makers in the State who will be able to have the post-production work done for them or use his studio to do it themselves.

The last major facility to go on stream at the Film and Video Park was Vismaya, Malayalam film actor Mohanlal's Dolby/DTS sound recording and post- production unit. The Kerala-based book publishers DC Books has ventured into new areas of convergence studies of late and its Media School is already training its first batch of students at Kazhakuttam. On its part, KINFRA recently commissioned a 15,000 square metre air-conditioned space to house units of the SEZ Animation Zone and is also talking to private players to jointly set up an International Animation School within the Film and Video Park.

The anchor player at the International Apparel Park at Thumba is the Leela Group, which already provides employment to over 1,000 young women and is set to double its capacity as well as job potential in 2006. The Delhi-based Creative Home Fashions will increase the headcount by another1,000 when it goes on stream in March 2006. And when the All India Handloom Fabrics Marketing Cooperative Society completes construction of its 2,800 square metre facility it will see another 2,000 garment workers march in every day, making this corner of Kerala, hitherto known for its rocket-launching station, the textile capital of the State.

The potential of Kerala as a producer of packaged food is being unleashed only now. Situated on NH 17 to Mumbai, only 20 km from the rail head at Kozhikode and 10 km from the Karippur international airport, the Food Processing Park is blessed with the logistics that many other States can only envy. And to add professionalism to its ventures, KINFRA has tied up with reputed institutions such as the Central Food Technological Research Institute (CFTRI) and the Defence Food Research Laboratory (DFRL) through its nodal Agency for Development of Food Processing Industries in Kerala (ADFIK) and established quality-control laboratories, incubation centres and cold storage units to assist new players who have set up shop in the park.

But Kerala's food products emanate from across the length of the State and KINFRA has moved its newest units closer to the production centres at Adoor in Pathanamthita district, Nellad in Ernakulam district and Kalpetta in Wayanad district. These centres will boost the State's fame for ethnic foods. Wayanad will also be home to the State's first Herbal Park, tapping into the traditional knowledge of Kerala's renowned Ayurveda practitioners.

The Kochi region is the new address for the high-tech end of Kerala's industrial thrust and KINFRA has had to put up a `houseful' sign at its 90-acre Export Promotion Industrial Park in Kakkanad. It has acquired another 100 acres for joint development with a private sector partner. KINFRA's partnership with the Rubber Board and the Marine Products Export Development Authority and the Seafood Exporters Association have seen the establishment of a Rubber Park in Irapuram near Ernakulam and a Sea Food Park at Aroor in the epicentre of the State's near-shore fishing activity.

WHAT is KINFRA's roadmap for the future? "Our next wave has to be in biotechnology," says Managing Director A.S. Suresh Babu. "When President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam gave us the agenda for Kerala in his historic address in the Legislative Assembly earlier this year, he stressed that the State's strength in intellectual capital must translate into a leadership role in biotechnology. We have taken up the development of a biotechnology park at Kalamassery, Kochi, jointly with TCD Urban Infrastructure Holdings of Mumbai." This will soon provide space for green houses, tissue culture facilities, plant-based medicinal extraction facilities, and a bioinformatics and patent information centre. The State is already home to leading national institutions such as the Tropical Botanic Gardens and Research Institute, the Sree Chithra Thirunal Institute of Medical Sciences, the Regional Research Laboratory and the Rajiv Gandhi Centre for Biotechnology. The 240 acre-high tech park in Kalamassery will soon be home to an international convention-cum-exhibition centre and a SEZ for electronics.

But Suresh Babu stresses that like Kerala itself, KINFRA needs to surge forward, enabling national and international stakeholders in the frontline technologies to come here and do business.

T. Balakrishnan, Kerala's Principal Secretary for Industries and Commerce, sees pragmatic sense in the twin tracks that KINFRA is traversing. He said: "The State's unique propositions to the prospective investor in technology, both national and international, is now better understood and KINFRA has played a crucial role in creating this new mindset."

A foot in the hoary past and another in the 21st century might seem like a balancing act. But anchored to the realities of the industrial environment, KINFRA looks like bringing off this double act with a skill that can only come from a people schooled both in the delicate art of Kathakali and the more martial demands of Kalaripayattu.