Chennai: Tamil Nadu, besides having attracted many automobile and electronic companies to set up their facilities here, is also looked at as an attractive IT destination.

Mapping progress: Tamil Nadu planning and development secretary C. Chandramouli. Sharp Image

In an interview with Mint, Chandramouli says that Chennai has evolved into a city with traditional values but modern outlook, where you find software professionals carrying ‘thair saadham’ (curd rice) in their tiffin boxes and having it at the posh food courts of their companies. Edited excerpts:

How do you view the growth of industries as well as IT in south?

Chennai has always been the gateway of south and also, when you look at the look-east policy; we are the gateway of South East Asia also. So, in that way, Chennai assumes a very strategic position both geopolitically as well as the kind of infrastructure that people look for, for investment. Now, when I talk of infrastructure, the first and foremost asset that Chennai or Tamil Nadu has is its human resources. We are adding about a lakh engineering graduates every year and three lakh of non-engineering graduates. Now, these people are English-speaking, trainable and more importantly, their work ethics, which everyone talks about. The work ethics in the south is generally of a high order but more so, in Tamil Nadu because of their loyalty to their employer, their attrition rates are very low compared to other places. So, this is what a lot of people find very attractive.

So, one is they stay with the company and they add value to the company also. That is what people found here, whoever came here. And that is why you see today TCS’ (Tata Consultancy Services) largest campus spread over at about 70 acres is coming up in Siruseri. Similarly, Wipro’s largest two campuses — 90 acres and 80 acres in Sholinganallur and Mahindra World City are coming up. Then, if you take Satyam, their campus is coming up on an area of 50 acres in Sholinganallur. If you take HCL, their 50-acre campus is coming up in the outskirts of Chennai. So, all the top 10 IT companies are investing in permanent assets. It is not that they come, occupy space and when the chips are down, they move away. They are adding to the permanent asset creation of the state and adding substantially to the headcounts. Probably the largest headcounts — they are in the city of Chennai. When you take TCS or Infosys or Wipro, all of them have huge headcounts in Chennai and they have invested permanently in the city of Chennai. So, that’s what gives us hope that we are here to stay as a permanent player. They find permanent value in being here and that’s why they are here.

What are the steps taken by the state to ensure that there is no congestion in the state with the rapid industrialization that is taking place in the city?

Yeah, we realized very early that we should not be bogged down by our own rapid growth and so; we started looking at transportation solutions, housing solutions. That’s why you see the IT corridor being taken up on the PPP (public private partnership) mode, we had announced the development of satellite cities — now we have modified it as — all the tier-II cities, wherever we are putting up IT SEZs, we are also adding a city to it.

These have been announced by the IT department and that’s how we are going. Chennai, Coimbatore, Madurai — we are trying to dovetail the civic infrastructure development along with IT and other infrastructure. So, you will find that JNNURM funds are being utilized for civic amenities.

What more does Chennai need to attract further investments or is its story successful enough for people to flock in?

No, we realize that it’s not successful enough. We realize that there are problems. The major problem is the quality of education — though we have numbers in place, we don’t have the quality in place. And that is why we have started the initiative called the IT Academy. The IT Academy doesn’t look at students. It looks at developing faculty, developing curriculum, developing content so that we can equip the colleges, which are in the private sector. There is nothing that we can do beyond this. We cannot recruit their staff for them. At least, we can provide the facility to train them better. Just look at the fact that a school teacher has to be a B.Ed, has to be trained before he can take up a school teaching job whereas a college teacher doesn’t have any requirement. If you just pass your engineering course, tomorrow you can start teaching.

Tamil Nadu has a share of 14% of India’s ICT exports and it has set a target of reaching 25% by 2011. What steps is the state government taking to achieve the same?

It is achievable but international conditions will have a major say in what happens. If you take hardware manufacturing and software, it is achievable. You have a new industrial policy, a new IT policy, and a slew of incentives given to the investors. Basically, the entire thing looks at achieving the growth that we have projected in the policies.