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Vol. XXXIII No. 19, January 16-31, 2024
The Tamil Nadu Global Investors Meet has just concluded. It was high profile event with the State pulling out all stops to ensure everything went off without a hitch. The results have, according to the Government, been most satisfactory with a reported Rs. 6 lakh crore of investment agreements having been made. It is to be hoped that a significant percentage of these will become reality. Too often, as former CM M. Karunanidhi once remarked, these events deliver very little beyond their initial hype. But then we need not be pessimistic about it and can hope for the best. What however needs looking into is what is the proportion of projects proposed around Chennai and what is planned in the rest of the State.
As any visitor to the meet would vouch, the Trade Centre was the ideal venue for the event – it had the space to accommodate large numbers and the halls needed for the various breakout sessions happening simultaneously. Also, as any visitor would have vouched, accessing the place was a nightmare with traffic inching towards it from miles ahead. Work in progress on a metro rail line by the side of the location did not help matters either. And the rain added to the chaos. It showed up the limitations of the city’s infrastructure. As overseas visitors would not have failed to note, we are a city bursting at the seams.
If the present administration is serious about leaving a lasting legacy on the State, it should begin looking at how it can attract investment to the rest of Tamil Nadu. While it is to be accepted that having the event at the capital made sense by way of infrastructure and avoiding the necessity of travel for the cabinet and the bureaucracy, the State missed an opportunity to showcase other possible locations. While Madurai and Trichy perhaps lack the infrastructure to host such an event, Coimbatore certainly could have been considered and it has the wherewithal as well. Perhaps it being a constituency that voted for the Opposition may have weighed against it. If so, it was a wrong consideration and the party in power likely lost an opportunity to make inroads into it. That city could have also seen an upgrade of its infrastructure as a consequence. The last time that happened was when the World Tamil Conference was held there.
The present regime is not alone in its Chennai focus. All of the previous investor meets, no matter who was in power, have happened in Chennai. And when you look back, Chennai has been the focus for all the sectors that Tamil Nadu leads in – automotive, healthcare, leather and IT. When will the other areas in the State develop?
In the past there have been halfhearted attempts at best at creating industrial hubs elsewhere. Trichy saw development around BHEL and at Viralimalai and has since gone into decline. The same is true of Madurai and Salem as well. Coimbatore is an exception but that is more because of the inherent entrepreneurial spirit in that town. In reality all of these cities are prime candidates for development and an investor meet at any one of these places would have set the ball rolling. By going in for low-hanging fruit just because Chennai is a metro and not working towards creating world-class infrastructure in the other towns, TN’s development is lopsided.
Data has not yet emerged on the percentage of proposed investment around Chennai and elsewhere. But a profile of the potential investors and the kind of events held did seem to indicate that Chennai will continue to have a disproportionate lead. Which, given the skyrocketing land prices and failing infrastructure is not a preferred outcome.