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The infrastructure advantage

Print edition : Oct 11, 2002 T+T-

INFRASTRUCTURE is the key to industrial progress. Coimbatore has one of the highest levels of infrastructure development in Tamil Nadu.

Highly power-intensive, the district draws 515 MW from the State grid. There are hydel units on the Sholayar and the Sarkarpathi in Pollachi and the Nellithurai in Mettupalayam. A reliable power supply network is available to the industrial units.

Good roads contribute to development too. The length of surfaced roads per sq km is 0.44 km in Coimbatore, compared to 0.38 km for the State. Under the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana scheme, the district administration is trying to improve rural road connectivity further. According to District Collector N. Muruganandam, 48 km of roads were laid and improved in 2001 and 54 roads running to a length of 148 km linking up 62 habitations are to be laid or improved by 2004.

The levels of advances given by banks are also much higher in Coimbatore an important reason for the birth and growth of small and tiny units. The per capita bank advance is over Rs.4,000 in Coimbatore, double the State average. According to the lead bank, Canara Bank, the recovery rate is very high in Coimbatore; in the case of small units it is 82 per cent, the highest in the State.

Over 92 per cent of the district's villages have piped water supply compared to 85 per cent for the State as a whole. According to Collector Muruganandam, with the Piloor water scheme supporting the Siruvani project, water is not a problem in Coimbatore. With Rs.40 crores received from the Central government in 2000 under the Rajiv Gandhi Rural Water Supply Mission and Rs.4 crores (10 per cent of the Centre's contribution) contributed by the people, the district administration has brought water to all the tribal areas, primary health centres, balwadis, noon meal centres and government schools.

In this rainfall-deficient region, with the depletion of groundwater to an alarming extent, wells of up to 300 ft (about 90 metres) and borewells up to 700 feet (about 215 m) are common. Aggravating the problem is the increasing use of water for non-agricultural purposes and pollution by a cement unit at Madukarai, and dyeing units at Pallipalayam, Kumarapalayam and Tirupur. To mitigate this, rain-water harvesting is promoted and implemented strictly throughout the district. The New Tirupur Area Development Authority was recently floated as a company by the State government, the Tirupur Exporters Association and the IL&FS (Infrastructure Leasing and Financial Services) to develop infrastructure, primarily for water supply and drainage in Tirupur, where the hosiery industry is concentrated.

Although most industrialists have strong connections with the agricultural sector, they have neither bothered to improve cotton production nor helped to add value to farm produce. Realising this, the district administration has initiated a scheme to generate employment in the rural areas and add value to farming.

By merging all the poverty-alleviation schemes, the Swarna Jayanti Gram Swarojgar Yojana was implemented in the State. According to Muruganandam, this project aims to generate employment and add value to agriculture. The projects selected under the scheme are agro-based and range from coir pith making, dairying, sericulture and button mushroom cultivation to processing various farm produce.

Telecommunication connectivity is of a high order in Coimbatore, especially since cellular phones became popular. There are four service providers in the field. According to BPL Mobile chief operating officer R.A. Venkitachalam, over the last five years the rate of growth in the usage of cellular phones in Coimbatore has far outstripped that in even Chennai; about 40,000 subscribers join every month. Being the first such company to set up operations in Coimbatore and Tirupur, in 1997, BPL Mobile worked to create awareness about the concept of cellular telephony in the region. Being a high-industrial activity region, sales picked up, but, with other operators such as Airtel and BSNL entering the fray, rates have fallen and customer service has become the buzzword.

Venkitachalam said that BPL Mobile has been at the receiving end in this situation because, as the first operator to enter the market, it had to pay an additional Rs.200 crores as licence fees.

According to R.S. Venkatesan, principal general manager of BSNL, the latest entrant into the cellular market, though the penetration levels 10 per 100 population is double that of the national average, there is a possibility of even higher growth given that Coimbatore's industries are looking up and the city is fast emerging as a health care and educational hub of the South.

In spite of the presence of several players, Venkatesan is confident that BSNL has a major role to play in the field as it has planned at least one telecom connection for every village at heavily subsidised rates and several special schemes. BSNL's advantages are that its area of operation is large and while profit is a consideration, it is not the only driving factor.

BESIDES such elements of physical infrastructure, Coimbatore's industrial units enjoy an almost unique support structure in the form of numerous industrial-commercial associations. The most important, with wide reach and influence, is the South India Mills Association (SIMA). Apart from training and educating the 372 member mills on modern methods and conducting research on increasing cotton productivity, it supplies quality cottonseeds developed in its own farm and ginned at its own facility. Providing further technical support to the textile industry is the South India Textile Research Association.

The Coimbatore District Small Scale Industries Association (CODISSIA) acts as a catalyst for small entrepreneurs, providing them national and international exposure by organising training programmes, seminars and fairs.

Besides these major associations, there are others such as the South India Engineering Manufacturers Association, the Coimbatore Management Association, the Coimbatore Small Foundrymen Association, the Small Industries Testing and Research Centre and the Foundry Owners Association, working together to keep Coimbatore's entrepreneur on top.