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Employment is the key issue in Madurai

S Kalyana Ramanathan in Madurai | May 04, 2004 16:14 IST

The winning candidate from the Madurai Lok Sabha constituency is going to have his hands full. The first problem he will have to address is the lack of adequate drinking water.

For the last three years, Madurai has experienced scanty rainfall, hitting its once-strong agrarian economy and forcing many to look for alternate sources of livelihood.

Also the constituency's textiles industry, which till a decade ago provided jobs for an estimated 1,50,000 people, now employs only about 20,000 people, including both handloom and powerloom operators.

The two strongest contenders for the seat are P Mohan, the sitting MP from the CPI-M, and AIADMK candidate A K Bose.

Though Bose is a senior member of the AIADMK, he is a novice in the parliamentary elections scene. Mohan, on the other hand, will be fighting to retain his seat and will be contesting from this constituency for the fifth time in a row. In 1999, he had won for the first time.

"A large employer like the handlooms industry has been ruined by the governments in the Centre and the state (Tamil Nadu). First, the excise duty on the handlooms industry should go. This is the only country where excise duty is levied on handlooms," says Mohan.

Mohan agrees that whoever wins this time will have to do something concrete about the water problem than just make promises. He says drinking water and finding a long-term solution for providing water for agriculture will be his first priority.

The general mood in this constituency is strongly tilted in favour of the CPI-M candidate.

"In the last five years, Mohan has spent close to Rs 10.88 crore for the Madurai constituency. This is in excess of the Rs 2 crore allotted from the Member of Parliament Local Area Development fund every year. He managed to use the funds left unused by the earlier candidate," a CPI-M worker explained.

He was referring to Subramaniam Swamy of the Janata Party, who held the seat for only a year. Swamy is contesting from Madurai this time too. However, neither the Bose, nor Mohan, considers him too much of a competition.

If there is any contest in Madurai, it is between Mohan and Bose.

Historically, Madurai has always returned a candidate from a national party.

In the five parliamentary elections between 1977 and 1991, the Congress had represented Madurai. In 1996, it was the Tamil Maanila Congress (TMC), the only time when a regional party won the elections. But, then the TMC was an offshoot of the Congress. In 1998, it was the Janata Party and in 1999, it was the CPI-M.

The people of Madurai have one big grouse against Mohan, and that is his failure to provide any impetus to the industrialisation of the city. Fenner, Madura Coats and the TVS Group are the only big names that have provided a strong industrial base to Madurai.

Otherwise, this constituency is still heavily dependent on trade, which is restricted to the city and its fringes.

Since 1991, granite has emerged as an important export product. Gnanakumar, a resident of Melur town (30 km from Madurai) points out, "Granite had emerged as a potential employer since 1991. Today, there are over 50 quarries in the region surrounding Melur town. Each of these employ a minimum of 300 people. Some employ even a 1,000."

Some five of these quarries are run by state-owned Tamil Nadu Minerals Ltd, while the rest is all privately run.

"If it had not been for the granite units here, the local economy would have gone to the dogs after the failure of the monsoon for three consecutive years," he says.

Bose contends that Mohan has done little to revive a dozen powerlooms units in Madurai that have been shut for nearly a decade.

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