Every sector the inputs that they can get from a think tank such as yours is truly very-very important and exciting, the inputs that I have personally received from these various interactions have helped me in my work significantly. And, I am sure the deliberations of the last two days will also help us look at different ideas in a new light as must have been discussed over the last two days.
We are looking at India when we turn 75, that is 2022, it is going to be a landmark here, a lot of the programmes that have been initiated towards a new India are centered around achieving significant milestones by 15th August, 2022. And in that sense, a debate on what is happening and what needs to be done differently to achieve success in making India a better country to live in, ensuring that every citizen of India has access to the basic amenities that each one of us is looking for, be it electricity, be it good housing, be it a toilet – a simple thing like a toilet in each one’s homes, water – clean drinking water for every citizen, good education and healthcare in his vicinity, better connectivity to the rest of the world.
I think these basic elements that we have not been able to provide to large sections of our fellow countrymen, despite seven decades of post-independence India is a big challenge that has been taken up by the country. It’s a challenge that’s eminently doable. We have seen some massive growth in numbers in terms of electricity access, in terms of more and more villages becoming open defecation-free, in terms of providing affordable housing to large sections of people in India who could not afford it earlier, in terms of ensuring that we have more and more schemes that help reach healthcare to the people of India, particularly, rural India.
And I think all of these various measures as planned, as launched over the last few years, as they begin to bear fruit will certainly help us take India towards the Sustainable Development Goals that have been set by the United Nations much faster than what was planned in New York.
I remember, particularly, in the area of power, which until a few months ago was under me, I have been debating with the United Nations and the officials of the body which finalized the SDGs that really the world cannot wait until 2030 to provide energy access for all or electricity access for all. It’s too long a target, and particularly, when we are looking at many other targets being achieved by 2030, we will actually have to prioritize what needs to be done first, what can actually have a huge impact on the lives of the people and what can help us achieve those targets, so that 2030 is an end date not only for a few successes, but for all of them to be successful.
And in that sense, possibly, a pert chart which would prioritize, which would go to the root cause of why large parts of the world have been left behind in the development race, would be great if a think tank like Mindmine would actually consider fleshing out the details from the SDGs and seeing how India can actually reach out much faster than what has been planned by the rest of the world.
I remember in an interaction at Davos where the World Bank President was also there at a early morning breakfast meet on financial inclusion, and here I am talking of 2015, soon after honorable Prime Minister and honorable Finance Minister had launched the Jan Dhan yojana, the financial inclusion plan by which we are trying to make sure at the first stage every household has at least one bank account. Now, of course, we have moved much further ahead from there, currently, we have been able to open nearly 340 million bank accounts under the Jan Dhan Yojana over the last three and a half years – 340 million accounts!
But I remember, in January of 2015, it was just about 4 months since we had launched the Jan Dhan Yojana. September 2014 or thereabouts we launched Jan Dhan with a target that every household should have one account, and when I gave the statistics in January 2015 at that forum, the World Bank President was actually amazed. He said I can’t believe that India could roll out – I think at that point of time, it was about a 100 million Jan Dhan accounts or so, and we had crossed 99% of households having an access to a bank account.
And they truly could not believe that this can be the scale at which a developing country like India can take financial inclusion to the masses, to the people of India. And there, they were struggling to see how the world can ensure financial literacy and inclusion over a 10 or 12 year horizon. I am delighted that on many aspects India has been able to make very rapid strides towards our goal for a more prosperous India, for a more developed India, towards a new India by 2022. When I look at the figures of open defecation-free villages and I see a figure of nearly 380,000 villages now being free of open defecation, it really makes you proud as an Indian citizen.
When we look at Soubhagya being launched by which we are wanting to guarantee every willing consumer an electricity connection and all those who are poor getting it free of charge completely, all those who come within the parameters of SECC and even for the others a nominal charge of Rs 50 a month for 10 months. But access will be given free of charge at the first instance to every household along the chain. And that’s a great departure from the past, I don’t know if any of you remembers and very often this is a matter that we discuss on many forums that public memory being short, it’s very difficult for people to remember those bad old days when you were perpetually having power shortages in the country. Moving away from those shortages we have now reached a situation that most power companies are under stress for their inability to sell enough power what they can produce.
But I think that is a great situation to be in and that actually encourages policymakers to start looking at giving an electricity connection to every consumer in the country. And I remember when I became a Minister and when we first embarked on ensuring that up to the village level, we ensure every village gets connectivity and the Prime Minister had announced that the last 18,452 villages be guaranteed electricity access in a thousand days, those thousand days are going to get over soon. And by last count, I think out of those 18,452 villages and then we added a few number where we found more villages which were wrongly declared as electrified, we have actually come down to small level of probably 150 or 200 villages which are left, more so, because these are in the very deep interiors of Arunachal Pradesh, some of them in the left wing extremism areas.
But, otherwise, we have been able to reach out electricity to every village across the country and these were clearly the difficult ones, the ones which were left behind even 70 years after independence – top of a mountain – many places our officers used to actually carry transformers, just like you take a palanquin to Vaishno Devi, … have actually carried transformers and cables and poles on their shoulders to reach remote areas which had no access, but ensure that we could take electricity across the length and breadth of the country. And now in the second phase, we have rewritten the rules of an electrified village to say that we should not only electrify a village under the traditional definition of available access, 10% of the households getting electrified, but make sure that every house gets an electric connection, a legal electricity connection.
And Soubhagya has been launched at an investment of about nearly $3 billion and our expectation is that by March 2019, we should be able to get almost a near-100% achievement that every willing consumer across the country gets a formal official electricity connection. And it’s imminently doable. We are working with the states. We are working aggressively with the states to make sure that the states carry this programme right up to every household. In fact, rather than waiting for people to approach the government for electricity, we have advised all the state governments to hold camps in every village and invite people in the camp to come and take an electricity connection with the least amount of paper work. You literally give your name, address, possibly, a few more details which would not be more than a two or three minute process and you will be eligible for a power connection.
I remember in the old days we even had this problem of illegal slums or illegally occupied places not getting eligibility for electricity, because they could not prove their ownership. So, we actually suggested to states that you could delink ownership and electric connection. So, having an electricity connection will not be proof that you are a resident or the owner of a piece of land or a property. But why should we deprive anybody of electricity?
And that same trajectory of rapid deployment on the ground you can see in so many areas across government. I mean I remember the optic fiber cable figures, I wouldn’t have the most latest number, but when we came into government, we had only about 358 kilometers of optic fiber laid out which had crossed over 200,000 kilometers about six or eight months ago – more than 200,000 kilometers. Right now, it must be some 270 or 280,000 kilometers.
The pace of growth at which India can transform itself is immense. It is for all of us to believe in ourselves. It is for all of us to accept our ability to have a transformed India by 2022 when India turns 75. It is for all of us to be willing to change the rules of the game where instead of preferential treatment or privileges, we are all willing to work in an equal opportunity framework where everybody gets an equal opportunity to enjoy the fruits of development, to participate in the growth story, to have access to the natural resources of this country.
And I believe the last four years where this government has focused its energies on creating a sustainable framework which will prepare India for an honest tomorrow, which will prepare India that everybody will have equal opportunity in any business, any proposal, any aspect of India’s development, rather than keeping development the privy of maybe a few privileged individuals or a class of individuals.
And it is that transparent framework which Prime Minister Modi and his team have been focusing on putting all our efforts in, a transparent framework in which we can truly take development to the nook and corner of the country, a framework in which even a thing like cleanliness, swachhta, becomes a part of the thinking of the nation. Because unless we have a mindset which is clean, unless we have a mindset which is able to think clean, we will not be able to transform this nation.
And many people did not realize it, but I believe when Prime Minister Modi was propagating cleanliness it was not only that the whole country should be clean like the Taj Palace is today, and it is not as if we are only a privileged set of people who are going to get the benefit of a clean environment. But every section of society should have a right to a clean country, a clean nation and that is where people’s participation in this transformation journey becomes even more important.
In fact, we have just completed the 100-year celebration of the Champaran Satyagraha and really the Champaran Satyagraha was all about a people’s movement. Independence is possible and the belief in the people of India that independence is possible in India was really propagated when that Champaran Satyagraha became a mass movement in the country. And what Prime Minister Modi said that when we are celebrating 100 years of the Champaran Satyagraha, can we take Satyagraha to Swachhagrah where the country now plans and a collective people’s movement to make India a clean nation.
And when we talk of a clean nation, it also equally is important that we look at a clean nation where probity in public life, transparency, honesty in processes is equally important as we move towards a better future for the people of India, various social programmes, the various efforts to clean up the banking system, to clean up the way natural resources were given out in the past, to clean up government interference in the day-to-day lives of the people of India, to clean up utilization of government resources, government funding – all of these efforts I am sure will collectively help this nation go to the next level, and 2022 as a benchmark year when India turns 75 is a great target to have, a country free of corruption, a country free of communalism and casteism, a country where everybody has a home of their own with electricity and clean drinking water, where everybody has access to good quality healthcare, good quality education. I think it is an aim which is imminently doable and when we all collectively put our heart and soul in this I am very confident that come 2022, the Mindmine Summit will be doing an analysis and an assessment of how this journey progress to ensure a brighter and a better future for 1.25 billion people in this country.
My best wishes to Mindmine in the journey going forward. I do hope some of your thoughts can go into this journey and what more could be done, how we could prioritize these efforts so that the jigsaw puzzle probably falls into place, and your Rubik’s Cube reaches its endgame when we are on 15th August, 2022.
Q: Thank you Piyush, that was brilliant as always. You know, when we talked of the concluding session, we normally like to call somebody who will leave an impact, so we were looking at a list of names. Because, apparently, I was told you were going to be out of town. But when it came to your name, the five people who were sitting in the room all said yes, you should call him. So you are an interesting character. You were born in politics. Your father has been in politics; he was a Minister in the government. Your mother was a 3-time MLA. But you walked off in a different direction. You were a brilliant chartered accountant I believe; you were 2nd All India or some such, right?
And then you went into this leadership programme at Princeton, at Yale, at Harvard, and clearly, you do believe in education. You sent your children to Harvard. You were in business. You apparently were a successful banker. So what is it that drew you back into what was been the family’s passion, back into the toughest form of public service, because politics in India is not just about doing things, it also in a sense requires you to have a thick skin, you are an easy soft target, people will take potshots at you and you face some in your political career, what is it that drove you to this?
A: Well, I think very early on in life I was privileged to have the opportunity of interacting with stalwarts like Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee and many of our leaders of the RSS family. And I could see that the kind of passionate nationalism that Atalji had and other leaders of the RSS had when we used to interact with them at a young age, the kind of sacrifices many of them had done, leaving very lucrative potential careers, sacrificing the entire life in the service of the nation, it always felt that there is a larger calling in life beyond making money.
Of course, I would not belittle the importance of money in any of our lives, we all need fair amount of money to lead a decent life and I was privileged that while I was embarking on my political journey I was able to do my own business successfully, build up my capital, so that when it came to an opportunity to work for government money was not a stress for the family.
And I often suggest to all my young friends that you must take an interest in politics, even though you may get potshots, even though you may have politicking. And today, of course, we have reached that depth of politicking where, in fact, the Supreme Court is being attacked, the highest judicial forum in the country is being attacked. And I don’t know if we are looking at going back to the emergency days when there was talk of a committed judiciary. I wonder there is an effort that there should be a judiciary which only gives judgments which I like. It’s my way or the highway. If a judgment is given, which is not suitable to my political interest whether we can start attacking the judiciary.
It is really a very unfortunate day that we are concluding this Mindmine Summit, and possibly, you may like to actually have an interaction on the future of judicial independence under the Mindmine Summit platform. But I felt that the larger calling in life and the ability to impact people’s lives in politics is more than any other field, and from a young age, of course, interacting with people in public life there was an interest that developed.
And I remember in 2014, talking to my wife and my two children and asking their permission that look, if I join government, then our lifestyle changes and it needs a … of the whole family. And we almost spent 4-5 days talking about it amongst the family. I remember, one day, my daughter, was much younger at that time, actually early morning is asking me when you talk of lifestyle change, what do you mean? I said, it means that we can’t have the kind of holidays we used to have all these years and just at the drop of a hat just go anywhere and take time off.
But, fortunately, the family has been very supportive and I think it has been four years well spent. I have enjoyed my work. The honorable Prime Minister has reposed great faith and given me an opportunity to address some of the biggest challenges that the nation faced. And I do have a sense of, I would say some satisfaction, but also a desire to do lots more in the years to come.
Q: I want to take off from a point you made about politics. It’s often been said now that politics has become adversarial, exceedingly adversarial. It has become personal. It has become negative and the mode of communication has become a …. That each political formation is attempting not only to talk about their own programme, in fact, we had some conversation on this earlier in the day, in two of the sessions actually. But trying to point a finger at what are you doing wrong, what do you think is the method for us as India, as Indians, because this is one of the things the think tank Mindmine, by the way, has an interesting mandate. Its mandate is India, Indians, Indian economy and India’s global vision, so everything with India and Indians at the centre of it.
So what is it that you think can be done to bring this to a more even …. Politicking is, of course, necessary, and I am about to leave one more part of this. So we actually tried this, some of us in the last three governments or four governments now, because in most major democracies there is a tacit understanding between the ruling and the opposition formations that these are 4-5-10 or 15 things which we all know are good for our nation, so we will support them inside and outside of parliament or whatever the system is in the country. For the rest of it, we will, of course, put our point of view across, how do we get to that point in India?
A: A very good point you have raised Sunil. In fact, it is precisely the reason why the honorable Prime Minister has advocated a debate and a dialogue amongst well-meaning people in the country, whether it’s time that we looked at simultaneous elections from panchayat to parliament, so that at every level we have elections simultaneously and then the government of the day then works through a period without this continuous politicking. Ultimately, if you see even in the last four years, if you look at the working of the last four years, the first three years, by and large, we were able to do a lot of things on consensus. I believe that highest number of constitutional amendments and changes in law and policy have happened between 2014 and 2017 with unanimous consensus being built up.
GST – can’t get a more difficult example than GST, where every political dispensation was on the table, every state had an equal voice and they were all unanimous decisions taken with all the states, differing political ideologies coming to terms on a new tax regime. Similarly, the Bangladesh border dispute, the NGAC, there have been a series of a…. the CAMPA law – utilization of the environmental funds collected almost, I believe 40,000 crores or something. All of these were unanimous decisions.
I believe it’s just the series of political defeats that the opposition faced and with an impending election coming up in 2019 that possibly politics has overtaken national interest and we have come to a situation where policy, public good, national interest, all of these are being left on the wayside and everything is now about politics, very unfortunate.
Q: A much more personal question – if I remember, in much younger days, your dimensions were a little bit different, you have become much slimmer now and much fitter, what is it you did?
A: No, no, I was actually quite thin many years ago, to the extent, on a lighter note, in our RSS Shakha, earlier we used to have half pants, now, of course, they have changed to full pants. But I still remember when I was a school and college going boy, I was so lean and thin that I was very embarrassed to wear that half pant. And I used to argue and fight with my leaders of the RSS that why don’t you allow full pant or trousers और मेरा बड़ा झगड़ा होता था इस विषय पर.
But possibly, over the years, you put on weight a little bit, but I think the good part is that my wife makes sure that I have my juices in the morning and my almonds in the morning and the fruit in the morning, reasonably good diet regimen, a good exercise regimen which helps to keep you active through the day.
Q: But you do maintain a pretty punishing schedule, from whatever I have seen of your work timing, you seem to work a very long number of hours and any time I met you or heard of you, about the people meeting you, you are always going more than one thing at a time and you carry on with meetings not just in the day time, but very late. Apparently, you don’t leave files pending the next day, is that right?
A: Well, I think it’s an opportunity of a lifetime, very rarely does one get an opportunity to be able to really serve at the levels at which I have been privileged to work in the last three or four years. In fact, I am grateful to the people of India for the kind of trust that they have reposed in us and the kind of support we get while we are making all of these decisions or working on so many ideas.
And I think the adrenaline just comes from the opportunity itself. And long hours is something which I think my father would have ingrained in me much-much earlier right in school, in college, so it’s not a big deterrent. But it’s a great joy when you see your efforts fructifying into outcomes, into results, the joy you get when you see a village getting electrified first time after 7 decades, the joy when you meet a child when you are going towards some coal mine area and he says that I go to a school run by the coal company or this home that I am living in has been provided to me or the toilet in my school has been provided by a power company under you. The joy of giving back to society and this society has given me and all of us in this room so much that I think there can be no greater joy than participating in this journey.
And with friends like all of you I have full confidence that India at 75 is truly going to be a new India, an India that we can all be proud of.
April 16, 2018 Speaking at 63rd Railway Week National Awards Function