Coimbatore Region

Growing in importance

Print edition : March 27, 2020

The CODISSIA trade fair complex. Photo: S. Siva Saravanan

The SSVM World School in Coimbatore. It provides a conducive atmosphere for the academically inclined and the artistically gifted. Photo: S. Siva Saravanan

S. Mohan Doss, Trustee, SSVM Institutions. Photo: S. Siva Saravanan

The assembly line for submersible pumps at Aquasub Engineering. A file photograph. Photo: K. Ananthan

V. Krishna Kumar, General Manager, Marketing, Aqua Group. Photo: S. Siva Saravanan

At “Auto Show 2015” organised by the Coimbatore Motor Parts Dealers Association at the CODISSIA Trade Fair Complex in December 2015. Photo: M. Periasamy

Students at a technical fest in the Rathinam Techzone in Coimbatore. Photo: By Special Arrangement

The G. Kuppuswamy Naidu Memorial Hospital is a humane health care service provider of the highest standard, focussing on providing accessible, safe, effective and efficient medical services. Photo: Courtesy: www.gknmhospital.org/

As a hub of education, health care and manufacturing, Coimbatore can genuinely claim pride of place in the entire country.

If there is one region in Tamil Nadu that ticks all the boxes for a comfortable life, it is the western region, headquartered in Coimbatore. Coimbatore is pleasant round the year because of its proximity to the Western Ghats. The Palghat Gap—a 20-30 km gap in the Western Ghats in this region—ensures that Coimbatore gets rain from both the south-west and north-east monsoons. Most of the city’s water needs are met by the Siruvani river, considered the sweetest water in this part of India. No wonder, many retreats for the elderly are located in this region.

The city is full of surprises and quirks. One of the finest automobile museums in India, GeeDee Car Museum, is situated here. So is the Sálim Ali Centre for Ornithology and Natural History (opened in 1990) and the Sugarcane Breeding Institute, which was originally set up in Saidapet, Chennai. It was shifted to Coimbatore in 1912 taking into account the better climatic conditions required for sugarcane to flower.

Apart from being a major hub for manufacturing, education and health care, Coimbatore is listed as among the fastest growing tier-II cities in India. Currently, every single sector that is important for a region’s economic and overall development is flourishing in the region. Each sector rooted in the region has had remarkable achievements to its credit. The sobriquet “Manchester of South India” attributed to it has now become more of a cliche because of several other sectors that have developed over the years to rival the unique place the textile industry enjoyed in the region. Coimbatore is also home to textile research institutes such as the Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel International School of Textiles & Management, the Central Institute for Cotton Research (CICR) and the South India Textile Research Institute (SITRA).

In recent times, the garment trade in nearby Tiruppur has overshadowed the achievements of the textile industry in the region. The textile and garments sectors have faced immense competition both from within the country and abroad. Over the decades, Tiruppur has metamorphosed into a hub for the manufacture of high-quality, complex garments from one that produced base fabrics.

CODISSIA

Coimbatore is a major centre in the country for automotive components and foundries. Despite the economic slowdown, most of the entrepreneurs in the region are optimistic about a turnaround soon. “Yes, there is a challenge. But we are looking at other sectors, such as defence where we can take orders now. We recently visited the Cochin Shipyard. I am sure something positive will emerge from our efforts,” says R. Ramamurthy, president, The Coimbatore District Small Industries Association (CODISSIA). “We are focussing on the Railways also. If defence and the Railways give more orders to MSMEs [Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises], there is a huge potential. The only thing is that we have to establish the right linkages,” he adds.

CODISSIA’s way to reach out is to hold periodic exhibitions and facilitate meetings with major customers. Since Coimbatore’s USP has been to do everything in style, CODISSIA too has opened a trade fair complex that is almost equal in size to Pragati Maidan, a venue for exhibitions in New Delhi. “It is almost three lakh sq ft. It has been done by a small-scale association, which nobody has done. Coimbatore’s economy is driven by CODISSIA,” says Ramamurthy.

Pump city

Coimbatore is also India’s “pump city” as it supplies a major portion of India’s requirement of motors and pumps. The transformation of the pumpset from a mechanical and electrical device to a computer-controlled “system” today is the result of the contribution of several innovators in this region. Today, the system—the pump controller, the panel associated with it, the electronics, and so on—plays a major role in providing solutions for drawing water and its use. For instance, one can operate a pump with a mobile phone nowadays. “It is not merely operating a pump. You can check all parameters that you want with your phone, sitting hundreds of kilometres away,” says V. Krishna Kumar, vice president (sales and marketing), Aquasub Engineering and Aquapump Industries.

New products and innovations were driven by need. “The water level is going down almost everywhere, even in States like Punjab and Haryana. It is not as bad as what we see in Tamil Nadu or the rest of the south. In some places, we need to go beyond a depth of 1,000 feet for water. In places like Rasipuram and Namakkal [in Tamil Nadu], 1,500 feet is normal. In Karnataka, in places like Kolar, it is 1,800 feet. It is bad,” he says. It fell on the manufacturers to rise to this challenge.

However, the business is entirely dependent on the climate and the farmer. If the rains are good, business is dull. If farmers are unable to afford pumps, then too, business suffers. “In 2019, the rain was good, but it damaged a lot of crops. Unseasonal rain in Maharashtra led to crop damage and hence both soya and onion were affected,” Krishna Kumar says.

Health care

The region is also a hub of holistic health care. In allopathic care, the first charitable hospitals were set up decades ago. A personal tragedy in the legendary entrepreneur G. Kuppuswamy Naidu’s family in the 1920s led him to set up a hospital for women and child care. Thus was born the G. Kuppuswamy Naidu Memorial Hospital. Kuppuswamy Naidu had set up Coimbatore’s iconic landmark, Lakshmi Mills, and was one of the well-known faces in the city. Although he did not live to see the progress of his dream project, he had set apart the money for its growth. A committee was formed to fulfil his wishes, and the G. Kuppuswamy Naidu Memorial Trust was established. Today, it stays true to the founder’s vision: a humane health care service provider of the highest standard, focussing on providing accessible, safe, effective and efficient medical services.

Some distance away from this iconic hospital is the PSG Institute of Medical Science and Research and PSG Hospitals. PSG has been a unique institution since its founding. “In 1926, four brothers [PSG Venkataswamy Naidu, PSG Rangaswamy Naidu, PSG Ganga Naidu and PSG Narayanaswamy Naidu] divided their ancestral properties into five portions,” explains S. Ramalingam, Dean, PSG Hospitals. “The fifth portion they named as charities. This was in deference to the wishes of their father. The charity runs schools, colleges and other educational institutions and undertakes voluntary work,” he says. PSG today is one of the most sought-after hospitals in the region for its state-of-the-art facilities and for the access it provides to some of the best-known doctors in India and from across the globe.

A variety of medical professionals have contributed significantly to making the city and the region a destination for medical tourism. “Professionals like Dr S. Rajasekaran and Dr Palanivelu have been acknowledged for their pioneering work and contribution to the growth of medical science both nationally and internationally. Dr G. Bakthavatsalam and Dr Nalla G. Palanisamy contributed to the establishment of multispeciality hospitals,” says Dr P. Krishnananda, chief operating officer (CEO), Royal Care Super Specialty Hospital, who has written articles on the development of health care in the city.

Education

In the case of school education, there have been several pathways to the establishment of institutions in the city. The missionary route, the charitable institutions route, the dedicated teacher route—these are some of the pathways that have led to the establishment of the major institutions in the city. Many of them are a century old. The CSI Boys High School (1831), St. Michael’s Higher Secondary School (1860), Stanes Anglo Indian Higher Secondary School (1862) and St. Francis Anglo-Indian Girls School (1898) are among the oldest.

Asked why his family decided to open schools in the region, S. Mohan Doss, trustee, SSVM Institutions said: “My wife wanted to do something for children, especially the differently abled. She thought of a school that would be world class and at the same time rooted in Indian traditions. They began with a playschool.”

“In the first year we had a strength of 25,” he said about the genesis of the school about two decades ago.

Today the group runs the SSVM Matriculation Higher Secondary School, the SSVM World School, the SSVM School of Excellence, and the Reeds World School. “We believe that children should learn a little bit from every activity and participation. That will only make them strong, and they will be able to succeed in life; not only marks,” Mohan Doss says. The learning environment is such that it provides a conducive atmosphere for students who are purely academically inclined and for students who are artistically gifited. “We identify the talents of students and encourage them to pursue those areas. This is very important,” he says.

On the notion that the younger generation does not care for values cherished by the older generation, Chitra Manohar, CEO, Adithya Institute of Technology, says: “I don’t think they lack in values. But it is also a fact that their concentration is being taken away by too many things. We [the older generation] attach too much sentiment to everything. Obviously, the students are getting fed up.”

From a school to a professional college to a tech zone to industrial space and apartments, the Rathinam Techzone campus is unique in many ways. “The education portfolio is one. The tech part is another component. Living and entertainment is the third component. If you look at our logo, we have three circles. One stands for education, another is for the tech park, and the third is for living and entertainment,” explains Madan A. Sendil, chairman, Rathinam Group.

He says the school has a positive, friendly, challenging and diverse learning community to help students develop their skills in the academic, physical, socio-emotional and artistic dimensions. “We also value the distinctiveness of each student. We help children prepare for life and succeed in their own ways,” he adds.

One way to challenge young people is to push their creativity and thinking by making them part of projects where they are forced to think out of the box. One such celebration is Tinker Fest, a project exhibition on science and robotics organised by schools that are equipped with the prestigious Atal Tinkering Lab (ATL) that is funded by the NITI Aayog. Tinker Fest is planned in such a way that it coincides with the birth anniversary of the Missile Man and former President Dr A.P.J. Abdul Kalam.

Rathinam International Public School, which has an Atal Tinkering Lab, regularly invites and supports non-ATL schools to realise their innovative ideas in the form of science projects. Schools are also welcome to visit Rathinam School’s ATL and work on their creative ideas. Rathinam International Public School hosted Tinker Fest 2019 as part of its ATL activities.

A total of nine schools and 73 students from the city and neighbouring areas presented 35 projects in the exhibition, which was open to students from Class 3 to Class 12. There were around 250 visitors, including teachers, parents and students.

While the school is a big part of the campus, the other components are also equally important. “Each works well within its own campus. But building a bridge between them is a big challenge,” says Madan A. Sendil. “That’s when we thought that the incubation centre will help to bridge the gap. Luckily, we got it.” A part of this is the initiative not to waste food and to recover excess food from all over the city and reach it to the needy. Edudharma, a crowdfunding platform, was also developed because Rathinam had the incubation centre for educational and health needs.

The “No Food Waste” programme and Edudharma are now successful models of social entrepreneurship ventures. In fact, “No Food Waste” has bagged the President’s Award once. Edudharma has also received a few national-level awards. Edudharma currently generates Rs.30 lakh to Rs.40 lakh every month. This money is given to those who need assistance.

The focus of education will have to keep pace with the current needs, says Sendil. “All the new technologies coming in do not change education fundamentally. So if you are talking about three-year or four-year programmes at the undergraduate level, the first two years remain the same. What has changed is the way you teach. Open learning platforms such as Coursera and MOOCs [massive open online courses] have been disrupters. If you have to teach data science today, I need to teach statistics, mathematics, and Excel, etc.,” he says.

Creative approach

Coimbatore is also home to some of the best creative thinking in industry. Take the case of K.U. Sodalamuthu and Company. Its founder realised the potential in paper conversion machinery and devoted time and energy to give shape to his dreams. Today, the brand, Sodaltech, holds 90 per cent of the Indian market for paper conversion machinery. The company has more than 800 installations worldwide, with 40 per cent of the international market, the company said. This much-felicitated group added another feather to its cap when the Engineering Export Promotion Council selected the company for the regional export award for 2017-18 in the category “Special trophy–medium enterprise”.

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