A city in transition

Print edition : February 13, 2004

Mysore, Karnataka's second largest city, is poised to take off as the newest destination for investment, despite its inadequate infrastructure.

MAHARAJAS, palaces, the Chamundi Hills, elephants, the Dasara processions. Think of Mysore and you are overcome by nostalgia. Suprisingly, this erstwhile capital of the Mysore maharajas has managed to retain the old world charm. A mix of the medieval and the modern is what the city, which encompasses 105 square kilometres and has a population of over 800,000, boasts of today.

Lalit Mahal Palace Hotel, Mysore.-PICTURES: RAVI SHARMA

Located 140 km south of the Karnataka capital of Bangalore, Mysore traces its history to the Ganga Dynasty, which was established during the 2nd century A.D. Mysore was part of the Chalukya prince Narasinga's kingdom in the 10th century. The Cholas and the Hoysalas built temples in Mysore city and on the Chamundi Hills.

But it was during the reign of the Yadu or Wodeyar dynasty (founded in 1399) that Mysore came into prominence. Bettada Chamaraja Wodeyar, the raja of Mysore, rebuilt the small fort of Mysore, established it as the administrative headquarters of his small principality, and called it `Mahishur Nagara'. Though Raja Wodeyar (1578-1617) shifted the principality's capital to Srirangapatna in 1610, the fall of Tipu Sultan in 1799 saw Mysore once again becoming the capital of the Wodeyars.

Mysore's transformation from a small fort town to a vibrant city started under the reign of Krishnaraja Wodeyar III (1799-1868) and reached its zenith during the rule of Chamaraja Wodeyar (1895-1940), who built broad roads, imposing buildings and picturesque parks. A succession of astute Wodeyar maharajas helped the kingdom of Mysore earn the name `Ramarajya'.

Today Mysore is Karnataka's second biggest city and according to the State government, it is poised to take off as the newest destination for investment in the industrial, educational and tourism sectors. Mysore has a history of being home to such traditional industries as weaving, oil crushing, sandalwood carving, bronze work and the production of lime and salt. Using this as the base, Mysore has over the past eight decades transformed itself into a destination for modern industries in the manufacturing, service and Information Technology (IT) sectors. TVS Motor Company, Raman Boards, N. Ranga Rao & Sons, Vikram Hospitals, Reid & Taylor (a division of S. Kumars), Jubilant Organosys and Infosys Technologies are some of them.

The blueprint for the development of industries in Mysore was laid out way back in 1911. There are currently around 100 large and medium-scale and nearly 10,000 small-scale industries operating in and around Mysore city. The products include automobile spares, pharmaceuticals, electrical goods, engineering and machine components, rubber, textiles, chemicals, processed foods, plastics, defence-related goods, Information Technology products and incense sticks. Currently the industries that are doing well are pharmaceuticals and automobile ancillary units that are strategically tied up with automobile/engineering majors. Curiously, the IT industry, despite the wealth of human resources, has not moved to Mysore in a big way.

Mysore, home to two of India's premier food research laboratories - the Central Food Technological Research Institute (CFTRI) and the Defence Food Research Laboratory (DFRL) and located in the middle of Karnataka's major rice- and sugarcane-growing region, is poised to take advantage of the availability of agricultural raw material and human resources. Mysore is also rich in educational institutions, right from kindergarten schools to professional colleges.

Mysore also has the advantage of being well-connected by both road and rail (rail links started in the first decade of the previous century) to the rest of the country, especially the industrial hubs of Bangalore and Coimbatore. The State government has started work on expanding the existing highway between Bangalore and Mysore into a four-lane one.

With the doubling of the rail line between Bangalore and Ramanagaram now under way, and plans to expand it right up to Mysore on the cards, the commuting time between Bangalore and Mysore could be reduced from 180 minutes to around 90, thereby cutting the lead time required by manufacturing units to transport their wares to Bangalore and beyond. Another ongoing rail project - the gauge conversion between the towns of Hassan and Sakleshpur - will facilitate easier transport between Mysore and the port city of Mangalore. This should help Mysore's export-oriented units.

But what is hurting Mysore is the lack of an airport.

There was talk that the existing airstrip at Mandakalli on Mysore's outskirts would be developed into a full-fledged airport by October 2002. But the project has been caught up in redtape.

Said S. N. Rao, Mysore zonal chairman of the Confederation of Indian Industry's (CII): "No head of industry or a company wants to visit Mysore. This is primarily because no one wants to waste over three and a half hours travelling from Bangalore to Mysore." Industrialists like Rao are still sceptical whether Mysore can develop into an industrial counter-magnet to Bangalore, whose infrastructure is as it is bursting at its seams. Explains Rao: "Until the infrastructure, mainly roads, is ready you can't do much. The Karnataka government must push for Mysore and do more for the city. The buoyancy that you are seeing on the industrial scene is mainly because of the fact that the economy as a whole is doing well. This has resulted in a little incremental growth in Mysore as well. But if you want quantum growth in Mysore there has to be more publicity to the city and better infrastructure. There has to be more connectivity between Mysore and Bangalore."

Added Ashok Rao, vice-chairman, CII, Mysore zone, "Once infrastructure is in place, Mysore will grow by leaps and bounds. I see this happening in around four to five years' time. From the CII we have been lobbying the government and also trying to hold talks with the various government agencies to speed up the airport project. The Department of Industries and Commerce should also be more proactive."

As a long-time resident pointed out, Mysore has several additional advantages. The city offers quality life at a relatively low cost." Mysore, located at 763 metres above sea level and surrounded by hill ranges running from north to south, has a salubrious climate.

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