Industries in Chennai, Damaged but Determined, Face Michaung Head On

Chennai Floods

Cyclone Michaung unleashed its fury on Chennai, causing widespread destruction and halting the city’s bustling industrial activities. The cyclone led to severe waterlogging, power outages, and logistical nightmares, especially impacting small and medium-size industries. Despite these challenges, Chennai’s businesses have shown remarkable resilience. Initiatives by local NGOs, government aid, and corporate disaster management teams are contributing to recovery efforts. This story highlights the city’s enduring spirit and the urgent need for more effective urban flood management measures.

December 4, 2023. Cyclone Michaung hit Chennai, the capital and one of the main business hubs of Tamil Nadu. It all started with strong winds and heavy rains, which seemed normal in the beginning, considering Chennai has a history of such natural phenomena occurring year after year. But as the day progressed, the realisation into the apocalyptic nature of the cyclone was palpable. Sure, there were a several warnings issued by the government to the people of Chennai in advance. And surely there were many preparations done to tackle the impact as well. But evidently, “many” was not enough!

As an immediate consequence of heavy rainfall, the entire city was submerged under water, with heavy flooding everywhere from residential areas to commercial and industrial areas. The government had already declared a holiday for schools and colleges, but what about the industries? Whenever a natural calamity strikes, the kind of operational and economic hit that especially small and medium scale industries take in India is enormous. Firstly, waterlogging causes logistical challenges—neither goods nor people can commute from one place to another. Then there are other issues such as traffic jams, power cuts, etc., which add to the plight. And when there is a calamity of the scale of Michaung, pretty much the entire city comes to a standstill.

Michaung Wreaks Havoc on Chennai’s Industries

Flooding Inside the Premises of Sri Hari Industries
Flooding Inside the Premises of Sri Hari Industries

Chennai is a bustling city with lots of industries and acres of industrial estates spread all across it. These industrial areas are home to several big and small, domestic and multinational, manufacturing and IT set ups, which contribute significantly to India’s economic progress. While larger companies have access to resources and manpower to handle the aftermath of such disasters, it is mainly the medium and small industries, which have to face the fire—water, in this case.

Sujeesh Areekara - Owner, Sri Hari Industries
Sujeesh Areekara – Owner, Sri Hari Industries

Chandranathan Raju is the owner of Arihanth Forgings, a Chennai-based forging and machining company. During a conversation with Machine Maker, he said, “There is still no electricity; this is a significant loss to business.” Surely, this is not just his plight. Power cuts throughout the city have halted manufacturing operations in most factories in Chennai, impacting businesses and also dampening human morale.

The rapid escalation of the crisis is evident in the experience of Sri Hari Industries, Chennai-based manufacturers of engineering components and tooling. The proprietor, Sujeesh Areekara, painfully shared, “There was 4 inches of water on my shop floor on Monday, 5th December. On Tuesday, it had risen to a shocking 16 inches. Most of our electrical items, transformers, and machines were submerged.” Wednesday offered little reprieve, leaving behind a messy chaos of sewage without electricity or mobile connectivity, severely hampering recovery efforts.

Waterlogging and prolonged power outages just seem to be the tip of the iceberg. Communication barriers are further complicating coordination and relief efforts. With each passing day, the economic toll of the cyclone is becoming increasingly apparent. This situation is a stark reminder of the vulnerability of urban industrial areas to natural disasters and the need for more robust preparedness and support systems.

Chaos Unfurls but Hope Persists

Despite these formidable and seemingly unending challenges, a glimmer of hope remains as the city slowly edges back towards normalcy. G Aravind, President of the Ambattur Industrial Estate Manufacturer’s Association, reflects on this slow yet steady resurgence. He emphasises the need for collaborative efforts, noting, “Though things are now slowly coming back to normal, we have requested the government bodies to come out and help.” This call to action highlights the significance of joint efforts in navigating the path to recovery.

The journey to recovery is laden with logistical obstacles, as highlighted by Mr. Arun Pandian of Karthigeya Toolroom Private Limited. “The roads in the city are so waterlogged that we are facing logistical concerns,” he states, shedding light on the additional challenges of transportation and supply chain disruptions in the aftermath. This additional layer of complexity adds to the already daunting task of rebuilding the industrial fabric of the city.

But it is not only the government, NDRF, and local NGOs that are aiding in the restoration and rescue operations. Even corporate disaster management teams, such as that of LMW, are doing some commendable work to help the cause of affected industrial units in Chennai. “We have a disaster management kit and team. We first did this in Mumbai in 2005 and restored all the flood-hit machines by giving them free-of-cost service. Later, we also did it in Chennai twice. Even now, our team is on the ground helping out impacted manufacturers service their damaged machines”, said Mr. Indranil Bhattacharya, VP Marketing of LMW. This not only adds a flare of hope to the speedy recovery of Chennai’s impacted industries, but also showcases the “never-say-die” spirit of the Indian people in general who will not let business and life in the city come to a standstill for long.

Why Chennai has Such Floods?

According to multiple reports, the Chennai floods of 2015 were nothing short of a deluge. The death toll in Tamil Nadu was enormous with almost 30% of Chennai households facing gigantic losses. About 1.5 lakhs of street vendors were affected whereas the real estate market in the city took a real hard hit of approximately INR 300 billion. Talking of small and medium industries too, a whopping 20,000 units were impacted causing a loss of about INR 140 billion (Chennai Flood 2015 Report by NIDM).

The floods of 2018 and 2019 were also no different if we look at the magnitude of losses to life, business, and property in the city. And this trend is not restricted to just two or three years. How much damage the 2023 floods have caused to the city still needs to be seen as the rescue and restoration operations are still underway. But the fact of the matter is Chennai submerges under water each time heavy torrential rains and/or cyclones, followed by rains, hit the city. This ongoing trend poses a curious question—why?

In the 1920s, the Long Tank, a vast reservoir in what was then Madras, was filled up to create a residential settlement. The area is now known as T. Nagar, and is popular as the biggest shopping district in India as far as revenue generation is considered. But T. Nagar is just one example. Chennai has several other such instances worth a mention. Mr. Aravind further added, “The flooding problem in the estate is because there is only one way for the water to go from Ambattur Lake through Korattur Lake. To stop this flooding every year, they need to make more channels, not just one”. The core problem lies in the inadequate space for water drainage, resulting in widespread flooding that engulfs both industrial and residential zones, ultimately submerging the entire city.

The Road Ahead

Chief Minister M K Stalin is having a big challenge in hand, bringing a consistent solution to the flooding situation at Chennai

The flooding of Chennai year after year raises a big question mark on the capability of the administration to control such natural calamities. However, the central government has taken a step in this direction. For the first time in the history of India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has approved the urban flood mitigation project amounting to INR 561.29 crore for Chennai.

Coined “Integrated Urban Flood Management Activities for Chennai Basin Project”, it has been categorised under the National Disaster Mitigation Fund (NDMF). Though the project has been approved right now for Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, considering the gravity of the situation in the two states, this definitely is an extremely positive step and will go a long way in crisis management situations in India, moving forward.

Chennai is going through hard times, but its businesses have shown they are strong and can adapt when needed. The path forward is difficult, but everyone working together, with help from the government, gives us hope. This time in Chennai’s history is not only about fighting a natural disaster. It’s also about how strong people are, not giving up even when things are really tough. The city is on its way to normalcy, and it’s not just fixing what was broken. It’s becoming even stronger, showing that it can overcome any challenge.


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