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DRIVING AROUND METTUR

At 52,813 its population is far less than that of T Nagar in Chennai. But its contribution to the state is substantial. Home to a water dam, power generation plants, chemical manufacture, specialty steel making and once aluminum production, Mettur is a cross between a large village and a small town.
I was there for a couple of days.

CHEMICALS

As you step into the Chemplast Sanmar factory, you get a feel of how the environment around you can be. Lush, green and quiet, it breathes tranquility not generally associated with a Chemical unit. With four plants, an associate company and a captive power unit, it’s housed over 350 acres and employs around 1275. A refrigerant gas plant (initially commissioned in 1941), a PVC division (1967), a caustic chlorine unit (1965) are all part of the Chemplast group. The plant is on zero liquid discharge. A visit around the factory tells you it is spic and span in the Japanese mould.
What makes for a stellar contribution is that six levels of power redundancy have been built including usage of power from a captive coal-based plant. Importantly, the company does not significantly compete with the local population for resources, be it power or water. It saves 3000 KL/day of water with the use of an air-cooled condenser. The treated water is recycled to the habitat.

POWER

Mettur, with its hydroelectric as also thermal power stations, is one of the important sources of electricity for Tamil Nadu.
The Mettur Thermal Power Station acts as a baseload power plant for the Electricity Board (TNEB). At Power Station 1, there are four units each with a capacity of 210 MW; it can generate 210,000 units per hour each, or cumulatively 2 crore units per day. Additionally, there is Power Station 2 with a capacity of 600MW.
The principal raw material is coal bought from Talcher in Orissa and imports are from Indonesia. The former has higher ash content while the later has more sulphur. The factory had a plant load factor of 84.7 per cent.
Incidentally, compared to their North Madras counterparts, Mettur’s disadvantage is the extra distance and hence the additional cost of procuring the raw material. A typical all rail route costs 25 per cent more and affects profitability.

SPECIALTY STEEL

With its million tonne capacity, JSW Steel in Mettur is a leader in specialty steel making and caters to automobile and engineering industries. Long years ago the company took over the ailing SISCOL plant and quickly turned it around. Soon it more than tripled its capacity.
There are a few challenges in operating in a place where there is no significant offtake of products manufactured and where people have a propensity not to emigrate for greener pastures. Getting and retaining talent is another issue. JSW at Mettur employs more employees per tonne of production than what it does elsewhere, hurting to some extent its profitability. Add to that the considerable transportation cost and landlocking, and you will realize why JSW wouldn’t be able to take full advantage of economies of scale.
The industry has been doing a lot for the town. Sanmar’s social interventions have endeared it to the people. JSW’s contributions have made Mettur GH the only tertiary hospital with diabetic wound cleaner machine facility. It works extensively with government and schools towards building restrooms and is a part of the Swach Bharat movement.

THE CABBIE SPEAKS

The cabbie who drove me around is a qualified automobile engineer. He had done his schooling at Malco Matriculation School. Both Sanmar and Malco run schools in the vicinity. He rued about how fishing and agriculture had been the town’s dominant occupation. He drove me around the Dam and spoke indulgently of how the place has changed: The Malco plant , which once made Mettur as the aluminum city of Tamil Nadu, looks like a ravaged relic. Its power plant too has been shut down. Cabbie Anand told me the meaning of the word Mettur as ‘town with crests and troughs,’ and wondered how industrial development has taken a heavy toll on Mettur’s farming and fishing communities.

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