Estate of neglect
Once the pride of the city, the Guindy Industrial Estate is a sad sight today
THE ROAD to the Mount ends at City Limits, just short of Kathipara Junction, and the Great Southern Trunk Road begins, running through St. Thomas' Mount Cantonment. The last landmark in the city is the Thiru Vi Ka Estate, better known as the Guindy Industrial Estate. Now administered by the Tamil Nadu Small Industries Development Corporation, it has virtually become a neglected adjunct of the much bigger, better developed SIDCO Industrial Estate, which sprawls across both sides of the Jawaharlal Nehru Road that leads westwards from its junction with Mount Road.
In its day, however, Guindy Industrial Estate was not only the pride of Madras State but also a pioneering venture in India and, thus, a model for suburban industrial estates all over the country. First announced by the State's then Minister of Industry, R. Venkataraman, in 1956, its first stage was inaugurated in 1958 with just 30 or so sheds by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. Lal Bahadur Shastri, then Union Minister for Industries, inaugurated the next phase a year later. And the industrial estate, later to be named after the writer and pioneer labour leader Vi Kalyanasundaram, began growing and flourishing. In its 405 acres, there were over 400 functioning industrial units as the 1990s dawned.
Venkataraman, whose path to the Presidency of India began here, once recalled the founding of the estate in these words, "When the Government of India decided to set up industrial units, Madras was the first to seize the opportunity. We felt that, though the State was deficient in raw materials, an engineering industry could be established using the skills of the people to provide value addition. To ensure this, we provided a number of services in the Estate, like pressure die-casting, forging, foundry, woodworking and metalworking, tool room and electrical maintenance facilities. There was also the concept of lease shops; entrepreneurs could lease a machine for a day or an hour and save on buying costly equipment. The success of Guindy was due to the services it provided."
Its success was also due to the way Venkataraman and his officials went about implementing the project. Venkataraman saw himself not just as the Minister for Industry but as "an agent for industry ensuring that the requirements of investors were met." His officers, led by Director of Industries and Commerce, T.K. Palaniyappan and V.S. Raghavan, backed by P.C. Alexander at the Centre, reflected this view and dedicatedly went about making the industrial estate a user-friendly reality. In fact, even before getting the project under way, Palaniyappan took the representatives of several business and industrial chambers to possible sites around the City being viewed by Government and allowed them to make their choice. They chose the Guindy location because the Great Southern Trunk Road ran alongside it, a railway station was at its doorstep and the airport, minutes away. Rather different from the way sites for major Government development are chosen nowadays.
Once the site was chosen, forests and fields had to be cleared, a comprehensive interior road network developed and other infrastructure provided in the area bounded by the Mount-GST Road, the Mount-Poonamallee Road and the Adyar River. Low rents - 7 paise per square foot for well-planned industrial sheds - the ancillary facilities available, and quick single window clearance for small scale industries on the spot by officers like Administrative Manager Basheer Ahamed led to a new breed of industrialists setting up shop, undeterred by the lack of even lavatories. These came when only one of them persuaded the Factories Inspector to issue a show cause notice to the owner of the sheds, the Department of Industries and Commerce!
The lavatories were followed by the SBI Branch, canteen facilities, an industrial training centre, an advanced small scale training institute, a post office and railway booking office. By the mid-1960s, 180 dwelling units for the workers were developed, growing to over 400 in the next 25 years. And as small-scale units grew into medium-scale ones, large units were also encouraged, like Hindustan Teleprinters, Eagle Flasks and Solidaire. The Central Institute of Plastics Engineering and Tools was set up in 1969 and the Prototype Training Centre for Leather Machinery was established in the Estate. Fair stood the wind for a prosperous future in the 1970s, with over 40,000 persons employed in what was seen as model industrial development. By the end of the decade, however, the Estate began showing signs of deterioration.
Rents being increased to 17 paise per square foot were the first of the industrialists' woes. Acquiring ownership of the rented sheds from 1982 did little to improve matters. With industry in the country growing apace, the small-scale units found it impossible to keep up with the volumes being demanded. And as units closed and others changed track, several being rented or used for service or software industries or as godowns, the era of neglect began. Barely a third of the industrial units are functioning today. And employment is down to 20,000 persons, 15,000 of them women.
Today, much of Guindy Industrial Estate is a sad sight. The roads are in a deplorable state, encroachments are rampant, storm water drainage and lavatory facilities are woefully inadequate, lighting barely lends a dull glow to the area, and public housekeeping has virtually ground to a halt. The new units have begun to breathe new life into their respective premises, but the public areas present a sorry picture of neglect.
Which is a sad note for this journey to end on. But it is as good a time as any to take a break. I'll be away for a few weeks and begin to look at Madrascapes off the main roads on my return.
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