Much like the proposal for three capitals in Andhra Pradesh, somehwhat similar demands are being made in Tamil Nadu. There is a growing demand to make Madurai city, the largest city in south Tamil Nadu, as second capital to ease the pressure on Chennai, which is also located in the northern corner of the state.
After a leading Tamil daily floated the idea, politicians, especially from Southern districts, latched on to it and have started pushing it. The Madurai district AIADMK even passed a resolution urging the Chief Minister to immediately constitute an expert committee to examine the feasibility of making Madurai – home to the world-famous Meenakshi Temple – the second capital of the state.
“Madurai city has the necessary infrastructure to qualify as a second capital. It already has a bench of the Madras High Court, an international airport, AIIMS is coming on its outskirts and more importantly it has a lot of non-fertile lands around the city that can easily be acquired to build government offices. It has excellent road and train connectivity,” pointed out Revenue Minister R.B. Udayakaumar, who represents the Tirumangalam constituency, just outside Madurai.
Industrialists and traders also feel that promoting Madurai would give a boost to industrial and economic growth to the Southern districts which have seen Chennai and Coimbatore emerging as industrial hubs. “There was an attempt to promote the Nanguneri industrial park near Thoothukudi in a big way when Murasoli Maran was the Union Minister but nothing came of it. Later the Sethusamudram Project was touted as a growth engine but it got delayed due to court cases. The latest proposal not only looks feasible but is also a much needed booster shot for the state’s Southern districts. Since Tuticorin port is just 150 km away from Madurai, industries would also find the Southern districts a more attractive investment destination if much of the administrative work can happen at Madurai,” observed K. Thirupathy Rajan, president of the Centre for Industrial and Trade Development.
In 1983, the then Chief Minister M.G. Ramachandran had proposed shifting the capital of the state from Chennai to Tiruchy, saying it was centrally located, but gave up the idea after considering the huge costs and the lack of land space since Tiruchy is surrounded by fertile agricultural lands. Though Cauvery was seen as a good water source, two successive droughts that dried up the river and the unending water dispute with Karnataka gave him further second thoughts.
But the present scheme only touts Madurai as a second capital, where some of the government departments could be relocated. Or at least those thirteen districts presently administered by the Madurai Bench of the High Court could be run out of Madurai. With 38 districts to administer and all departmental heads located in Chennai a second capital could actually decentralise decision-making and also help decongest Chennai.
“The absence of a perennial water source has also been addressed with the Rs.1,500 crore scheme to fetch water through pipes from the Mullaiperiyar Dam. The city can also benefit by higher spending towards infrastructure and prevent urban migration towards Mumbai and Chennai. Youngsters from the southern districts would prefer to migrate to Madurai rather than Chennai or Coimbatore looking for jobs,” argued Co-operation Minister Sellur Raju, another MLA from Madurai city. Even DMK’s former School Education Minister Thangam Thennarasu, who hails from the South, has endorsed the idea saying it could energise growth in the backward districts of Virudhunagar, Sivaganga and Ramanthapuram.
Of course one needs to wait for expert opinion and how the state’s influential officialdom views the idea. But for now the ball has been set rolling and it will occupy public mind space in the coming months. For the ruling AIADMK, selling Madurai as a future state capital would prove politically fruitful as the party needs to recover lost ground in the Southern districts after incidents of police excesses and poor showing in the Lok Sabha elections. Madurai also holds an emotional appeal to the AIADMK as the party’s founder MGR and his successor Jayalalithaa had held major political rallies in the city en route to power. The city has often been used to gauge the political pulse of the state.
“By owning the idea of Madurai as a second capital city, the AIADMK hopes it can also offset any losses that can be caused by TTV Dhinakaran’s party, whose voter base is concentrated in the South. It is an attractive candy that the ruling party can dangle before the voters of the Southern ahead of the 2021 Assembly elections,” observed political observer Raveenthran Thuraisamy.