CHENNAI: Nestled in the heart of the metropolis is a 404-acre, tree-lined spread of plots where steel fabrication workshops function cheek by jowl with textile, plastic and leather units. Or at least, they used to. In the last few eyars, India’s oldest industrial estate in Guindy has witnessed a slow but inexorable metamorphosis — the number of manufacturing units has reduced from over 600 in 2000 to less than 250. Most units moved to greener pastures.
Brainchild of former President of India, R Venkatraman, who was the then Industries Minister of the Madras Presidency, the Guindy Industrial Estate was the first of its kind in India. The importance it held for the future industrial policy of the fledgling nation is only underscored by the man who inaugurated its first phase in 1958 — Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. Nearly 60 years on, it has changed from a hub of manufacturing to just another area with offices and IT firms, with the occasional workshop thrown in for good measure.
“Less than 25 per cent of the companies inside the estate are into manufacturing,” points out K V Kanakambaram, president of the Guindy Industrial Estate Manufacturers’ Association (IEMA). The ongoing metamorphosis is poignant. “The estate was initially set up as an auto-component hub. All varieties of engineering goods were to be manufactured here. Even barely a decade ago, 600 small and medium engineering units functioned here,” recalls G K Basha of Shreeram Polyplast and senior vice president of the IEMA. That core of small scale industrial units has dwindled.
“People have moved out. While being at the heart of the city is advantageous in several ways, it has been the primary reason why manufacturing units have moved out,” admits Kanakambaram. As companies scaled up, they moved to larger and cheaper pastures. TVS, Simpsons, and even Royal Enfield were present in the estate during its infancy. Industrial estates in Thirumazhisai and Thirumudivakkam have been the primary gainers. “One ground here is equal to half an acre in those estates,” he adds.
Another reason is the crippling restrictions that come with being situated in the middle of the city. “We cannot bring trucks into the estate, except between 10pm and 11am. This is bad for units that need consistent logistical support,” Basha points out. Units have been replaced by multi-storey IT offices, and in one case, even a residential complex, says Kanakambaram.
Guindy’s counterpart — the Ambattur Industrial Estate, inaugurated in 1964, also faced the same problem a decade ago. “We arrested the trend right when it started by making strong representations to SIDCO,”says V Raju, president of the Ambattur Industrial Estate Manufacturers’ Association. But even Ambattur isn’t trouble-free with residential blocks and the associated problems plaguing industries there. “We have to deal with constant complaints about pollution, noise, truck traffic etc. Residential plots should not be given approval so close to industrial areas,” he complains.