The buzzling and traffic congested IT Corridor or Old Mahabalipuram Road(OMR for short)did not exist even 15 years back. I recollect buying a seven acre piece of land at Sholinganallur for Tata Consultancy Services(TCS) in 1990. The road to the city was full of pot holes and the land itself was amidst farm houses. I used to wonder if IT professionals would agree to work there, given the time it would take to commute. This was a major business issue for us, as we bought this property to create work place for 1600 professionals.
By 1997, the IT sector in Chennai was growing primarily on the back of the Y2K workload, which established the need for large-sized offices where nearly 1000 professionals could work together. Chennai was one of the few cities in India which could provide large number of qualified workforce for this industry.
The state government grabbed the initiative by establishing Tidel Park, at the start of OMR, to provide a world class facility with assured power supply and broadband connectivity. Companies could start their operations thereby using its “plug and play” facilities and move on to their own campuses as they grew larger.
A realistic dream
Confederation of Indian Industry(CII) was the first to champion the cause for a specialist corridor in Chennai. CII organised CONNECT, an event focusing on Information and Communication Technology(ICT). In the first edition of CONNECT held in 2001, we coined the term Knowledge Industry Township(KIT) to promote this corridor with a focus on attracting ICT companies. We wanted to replicate the Silicon Valley of the US. We felt that OMR had the necessary environment for it! - a large unpopulated place, nearness to world class centres of learning like IIT and Anna University and proximity to a culturally vibrant city. This was the dream and the fact that a large number of companies have moved in shows that the dream was grounded on realistic aspirations.
Close involvement of government and business
OMR succeeded because of the close involvement of both industry leaders and the government. Tamil Nadu had created industrial estates, but not at the scale at which this cluster was envisaged. The requirement was to create a mini city. The first part was to develop roads which could take the high traffic envisaged. This took time and we have a good infrastructure now. However, given the expansion that continues to take place in OMR, we cannot continue to rely only on road transport. The second part was to provide social infrastructure so that residential communities can move there. There are a number of high quality schools and health care institutions now, in and around OMR.