Chennai metro like other large cities was constantly pushing its periphery in all directions. In the early years, Tiruvottiyur was the northern limit for Chennai; a number of industrial units, including MRF, Enfield India and Metal-box were set up there. Soon the city expanded further north to Ennore where Ashok Leyland established its commercial vehicles factory. A large power station was also constructed at Ennore.
The real big change came after Manali was selected for setting up a large refinery in the 1960s.
I remember the excitement over the Madras Refineries Limited (MRL), now called Chennai Petroleum Corporation Ltd (CPCL), set up in collaboration with US and Iranian companies. Under the leadership of the renowned technocrat, M Rama Brahmam, a large number of international construction firms like Snam Progetti and Taylor Instruments built this sophisticated refinery to the stipulated tight time schedule and cost.
Chennai witnessed a galaxy of ambassadors, diplomats and a large complement of other foreigners at the glittering function when President V V Giri dedicated MRL to the nation. MRL recorded continuous expansion and improvements in refining margins. It also set up a small refinery near Nagapattinam to make use of the oil produced in that region. Later the American partner withdrew and MRL became part of Indian Oil.
Large scale production of a wide range of petroleum products triggered an explosive growth in a number of units around MRL. Madras Fertilizers, Indian Organics, Shriram Fibres, Tamilnad Petroproducts, Manali Petrochemicals, and Kothari Heavy Chemicals set shop in quick time.
The face of Manali has changed dramatically in just two decades. For a couple of decades from its commissioning in 1969, MRL recorded frenetic pace of growth. Manali boomed with large scale employment and high incomes. The birth of the petrochemical industry in the state was a true watershed.
The oil crisis in 1973 that resulted in crude prices skyrocketing frequently and the discovery of gas in the Bombay High oil fields shifted action to the west. The pace of expansion of Manali slowed down post liberalisation in 1991.