On the National Highway NH 47 near the Tuticorin Port, renamed after the famous freedom fighter V O Chidambaram, there is a never ending flow of traffic: of large trucks carrying containers, oil, gas and a wide range of industrial products.
One of the oldest sea ports in the world, Thoothukudi, renowned as a port city and later known as the pearl city, was first ruled by the Pandyas and in later years by the Portuguese, the Dutch and the British in that order. Thoothukudi has an extensive transport network and is well-connected to other major cities by road, rail and air.
The city has been recording spectacular growth, both economic and social. It has the second highest HDI in Tamil Nadu, next only to Chennai.
For centuries, Thoothukudi has been known for its booming salt production that contributes today to 90 per cent of salt production in the state. The vast coast is also a fertile area for fishing; the town accounts for a large catch of shrimps, prawns and other marine delicacies.
DCW heralds industrialisation
Industrialisation commenced with the establishment of the Dharangadara Chemical Works (DCW) in the late 1950s, thanks to the efforts of T T Krishnamachari and K Kamaraj. Today, DCW produces around a lakh tonnes of caustic soda, 1.25 lakh tonnes of PVC, 32,000 tonnes of red oxide. High temperature chlorinated PVC is slated for production in early 2016; altogether DCW produces around Rs 2000 crore of sophisticated chemicals.
A shot in the arm for Thoothukudi’s development came with the setting up of the major port in the 1960s. “The port handled 32 million tonnes of cargo last year and plans a massive expansion through an outer harbour project with an outlay of Rs 25,000 crore. In the first phase with an investment of Rs 11,000 crore, capacity will expand to 90 million tonnes,” said Chairman Anantha Chandra Bose. The extensive reclamation of sea will also help get precious land for the docks.
Over 2000 trucks crisscross the docks bringing in and taking out a wide range of products – coal, fertiliser chemicals, copper concentrate, edible oil, pulses, marine products, engineering goods, timber, textiles ...
The rise and fall of SPIC
In the late 1960s, the Southern Petrochemical Industries Corporation Ltd (SPIC) set up a 1600 tonnes per day urea plant, the largest at that time. In turn, SPIC catalysed the setting up of Tuticorin Alkali Chemicals and a heavy water plant. A zirconium plant has been set up recently. With the feedstock, naphtha, price skyrocketing, SPIC turned sick; if gas is made available, its fortunes can soar again.
In the mid 1990s the AIADMK government under J Jayalalithaa attracted Sterlite Industries (now Vedanta) to set up a large copper smelter at Thoothukudi. This heralded the flow of mega investments into the state. Today, Sterlite produces high purity copper anodes and rods to a capacity of 200,000 tonnes. The company is gearing up for doubling this capacity. Vedanta truly changed the face of Thoothukudi as a highly sophisticated production centre of a high value industrial product.
With the port came the facility to import coal in huge volumes. Thoothukudi has emerged a large centre for generating power. TANGEDCO’s thermal power station has capacity for 1050 MW (5x210). Chief Engineer M Thangaraj and his team ensure plant load factor at a handsome 89 per cent plus. The plant consumes around 20,000 tonnes of coal per day and yet looks so clean and neat. Swachh Bharat indeed!
Power in plenty!
Adjacent to this is another large capacity power plant, the Neyveli Thermal Power Station (2x500 MW). The first unit is operational with the second slated for commission soon. This plant has been set up at a cost of around Rs 6600 crore. For over five decades NLC has been lighting homes and factories in Tamil Nadu and the Thoothukudi unit is NLC’s first diversification to coal-based generation.
Coastal Energen is another large thermal station in this region. The first unit of 600 MW is in operation with the second getting ready for commissioning. The company has plans for major expansion. Sterlite and DCW have their own captive coal-based power plants. All told, the region has over 3000 MW of power capacity.
The traditional industry of salt is flourishing. Majority of the people are employed in salt pans, sea-borne trading, fishing and tourism. Salt pans in and around the city produce 1.2 million tonnes of salt every year and meets the needs of domestic consumers, food and chemical industries of the state.
SKSCN Dharmaraj, a past chairman of CII and third generation salt producer, Thoothukudi points to the scope for vast expansion of this industry to meet the needs of domestic and international clientele.
Flourishing marine exports...
Marine product exports form another major economic activity of this port town. The leader, Nila Sea Foods Pvt., Ltd and its allied concerns, account for export of marine products close to Rs 1000 crore. Large number of young women, drawn from Assam and other north eastern states, process the fresh catch with nimble hands. Cuttlefish, prawns, shrimps, crabs and other marine delicacies are in great demand in the US, Europe, Japan and other sophisticated markets. Understandably, the production processes conform to the stringent demands of importers from these markets.
Production of pulses and oilseeds in the country is far short of demand. The availability of palm oil at competitive prices from Malaysia and Indonesia and their proximity have led to a flourishing business of edible oils. KTV Oil Mills, in collaboration with KOG of Singapore, has set up a sophisticated refinery to process crude palm oil. The two production lines produce 400 tonnes of refined palm oil per day and also vanaspati. The company also has large capacity plants at Chennai.
Export of ilminite sand, raw material for titanium products and imports of timber and industrial products happen in large volumes. These triggered construction of warehouses and a flourishing logistics, clearing and forwarding businesses. St John Freight System Ltd offers multiple services to the logistics and shipping industry. Established in 1979, the company has presence in 15 countries and handles over 500,000 plus TEUs per annum and 2500 plus metric tonnes of air cargo. The scope appears expanding by the day. Globalisation has helped in looking out for trading in newer products.
Madurai -Tuticorin Industrial Corridor
Tuticorin is at the end point of the proposed Madurai-Tuticorin Industrial Corridor(MTIC). MTIC would consist of four manufacturing regions, one agri-business region, two business investment regions, a special tourism zone, one rural tourism hub and one know-
ledge hub. The Madurai-Tuticorin corridor will cover nine southern districts and is envisioned to attract Rs 190,000 crore of investment over a 10 year period. The districts vary from well-developed to under-developed. The missing link of infrastructure will be addressed by this industrial corridor, based on demographics. The Vision 2023 document details Rs 39,454 crore to be allotted to this corridor. Apart from this, Rs 144,365 crore has been allocated to various trunk infrastructure projects that have direct or indirect connect to the industrial corridor.
The immediate hinterland of Tirunelveli, Virudhunagar, Madurai, Coimbatore and Tirupur with their flourish of textile units offer large volume of trade through Thoothukudi. The golden quadrilateral project that provided high speed highway network connecting metros and major ports, has come a boon to Thoothukudi.
One can now understand the unending stream of heavy vehicles that criss cross the port town.