National NLC India Ltd., Shri SK Choudhary, all the distinguished members of the mining fraternity, international delegates, ladies and gentlemen. Mr Kumar, your blessings, your good wishes are worth its weight in gold, so you can rest assured that I need a lot of support, I need a lot of guidance and I will continue to hope to receive your blessings in the days ahead as we surmount more and more challenges. Of course, I don’t look at them as challenges as much as I find opportunity in the new role that has been assigned to me.
But before I go any further, I have two duties to perform. One, I would like to compliment all of you for all that you done for the mining sector in India, and to the organizers of this seminar to discuss how we can transform the mining sector in India. Two, also because the opportunity to come here has helped me create a new business model, which I have just finalized with Dr Acharya. We have just decided and concluded a business transaction sitting on the podium here where the railways is going to tie-up with NLC, have them put up solar equipment, solar power generating equipment across the railways at their investment without putting in any money. We will buy the power out of that.
And we have three objectives that we have just now finalized and this is the paper I am going to carry back to the office just now after my next engagement, so we can quickly get down to signing an agreement and getting down to act on it. A – I have told him wherever we have railway line, I want you to put up the solar plants, so that I save them from encroachment, which all of you are aware is happening rampantly all across the country. There would be probably hundreds of thousands of acres of land which has already been encroached, now we can at least try to save the rest which is still with us. So that is our one objective that we have decided.
Second – we have existing platforms which need to be expanded on both sides, because we are going in for longer and longer rakes now. As many of you are aware, now we are at 22-24, sometimes 26 rakes, but platforms don’t handle such long rakes. So we have tied up that they will help us to expand the existing platforms, create the roof on that and we will have a different rate of power for the investment that they will be putting in to do that. So, that’s the second – and, of course, there are many existing platforms also which don’t have a shed on top or for the full length of the platform.
So, we will work out and being a government company, we can always work out quickly and start working on it quickly. So, that’s the second thing we have decided that they will help us create more infrastructure for passenger convenience, while at the same time helping the railway’s energy security, which today, given the large scale at which India’s involvement with renewable energy has become quite competitive, probably lower than the grid prices that we are paying today.
And the third thing that we have agreed is that whenever we need the line on which you put up solar, they will agree to shift the solar equipment somewhere else and allow us to get back the land to use for our railways. Even during the payback period, you can shift it at our cost, that’s not a big deal.
Now, the reason why I spoke about this example is only to reflect the transformation that is going on in the thinking in the country. Of course, Prime Minister Modi also says, and for the benefit of our international delegates I will say, the Prime Minister is on record to say, ‘I will neither sleep, nor allow anybody else to sleep.’ In the sense that he wants all of us to be working, given this wonderful opportunity to serve the country. So, I thought we could take it one step further that while all the other speeches are going on, I can use the time to conclude a business transaction for the people of India.
And if I may venture to suggest, the people of India are an anxious lot. They are anxious for development. They are anxious for growth. They want to see prosperity in their lives. They are looking for a better quality of life. On the one hand, Mr Gopal Singh spoke about ease of doing business, just this morning Prime Minister Modi in another engagement has spoken about ‘ease of life’.
And I think it’s a great thing that the people of India have such high aspirations. They are so demanding. They want more. Because I believe one asks, one demands only from somebody one trusts can deliver. And the fact that the people of India want more, the fact that they expect more and better performance from all of us, the fact that there is often debate in newspapers, on television, which to some may sound as if unreasonable expectations are there in the market, amongst the people.
I personally love unreasonable expectations, because I believe not only does it show that the people trust that we can meet these unreasonable expectations with extraordinary performance, but it also gives me an impetus to do more, me as in all of us in government – as much to Gopal, as much to Dr Acharya, as much to Mr Kumar and Mr Choudhary who have served the country for long years. Because all of us have a shared responsibility to rid the country of poverty, to rid the country of all the evils that we have in a sense inherited over many-many years.
After all, even when we do mining, we create wealth, we transform the economies of local areas. I was just reading a statistic in Talcher, Dr Acharya originally hails from Odisha, which is a predominantly mining state, there is a district called Talcher where we have seen tremendous growth happening because of mining activities. Thanks to mining, not only have coal companies come up in a big way, but power plants have also come up, aluminum plants have come up, steel plants have come up, the whole ecosystem of industrialization is developing, along with the mining growth.
I am told – and there was a lot of extreme poverty in that area – I am told those poorest of the poor that extreme poverty in a short span of 10 years has reduced from 67% in 2002 in 25% 2012. Look at the drastic fall. I am told it’s likely to go down below 5% in the next 5-7 years. The GDP of that area has grown massively so that the per capita GDP of Talcher now is almost 3 times the average of Odisha. It’s about $1500, as against $525 which is the Odisha average.
But I am not so sure that it has truly transformed the people’s lives. I am not so sure whether all this growth in GDP, in per capita GDP, in wealth creation over there may have improved their lot from the poorest of the poor somewhat. But has it really been able to create good working conditions for those people, for the miners? Has it really been able to address concerns of pollution, climate change? Have we ensured quality housing, 24/7 electricity, good schools and colleges in the area? Do the parents of those families there, the older people, the young children, get modern day healthcare facilities? I am not so sure.
And that ladies and gentlemen is truly the transformation that all of us are collectively responsible for when we are developing the mining sector. While there can be no doubt that national wealth is created and closely linked to growth of the mining sector, a nation’s wealth is determined by the labour of its people, by what is mined or grown below the ground, by what is grown above the ground, in terms of agricultural produce or horticulture and stuff like that. And possibly, in current day with the blue economy coming up, the ocean wealth, ultimately when you put all of these together into a cauldron, you add value with technology and innovation and you create national wealth.
Mining is an absolutely integral part of growth and development of any country. Natural resources will help to determine the future success of India, the ease of mining, the ease of engaging the private sector also in mining, the way we do efficient mining whether we introduce technology, whether we introduce innovative ways to do our job better, to make the lives of miners safer, the living and working conditions better. I would think, as miners our role when we talk about transformation transcends that of just productivity or production increase to the more holistic vision of transforming the lives of the people of India, improving the lives of the people of India, particularly those in our ecosystem.
And I am sure, during the course of this seminar, when we discuss how India is at the cusp of transformation in the mining sector, while we will engage with various subjects that I was seeing on technology, on mining and reclamation practices, innovative mining technologies, various subjects that I was seeing which are certainly of great interest to all of us. But I do hope that we will simultaneously also pay equal attention to how we are going to transform and impact the lives of the youth in these areas, the next generation for whom we have to leave back a better planet to live in, a better world in legacy. We are working very seriously on promoting renewable energy, on addressing concerns of climate change. I am delighted that both my coal companies are passionate about engaging with renewable energy.
In fact, I do think safety which we have taken as of paramount importance, both in coal mining and in railways, is going to be the centre stage of people’s attention and our duties in the days and years to come. Our coal companies, our mining companies certainly need to focus much-much more on safety measures, just as we are trying to do in the railways in a very-very big way. And while at the same time expanding. You cannot have one or the other. We will have to expand our mining activities, both in coal and in other minerals, all of which are very essential for the growth of the country, also to reduce our dependence on imports and make the country more self-sufficient, particularly, in things like alumina we can promote rare earths, bauxite, with the growth in construction activities across the country limestone and iron ore for steel production, for that matter even sand.
And in all of this, there was a time when mafias or illegal mining used to rule to roost, our effort has been to bring transparency and honesty in this sector. Ultimately, we won’t be able to attract international engagement, international investment and interest unless we truly make this sector very transparent and honest. Nobody is going to look to come and invest in a country where 20 years after you are allotted a coal mine, it could get cancelled because it was allotted without due process and in an illegal manner. No investors want this type of situations to ever recur, whether domestic or international.
This government has tried to bring in a very powerful framework of transparently auctioning out mines, mining leases, exploitation licenses, whether in coal mining or other mines also, so that the processes become very transparent, everybody has an equal opportunity, natural resources are not given away for free to friends and family, and relatives and political party members. The money which we get out of this honest auction is used to serve the poor of India, remove some of the inequalities.
We have, in fact, introduced a new scheme called the District Mineral Fund, which also brings in investable funds for development of local areas where mining activities are going on, many of which are tribal areas where people have really got a raw deal for decades and centuries. And which is the responsibility of all of us collectively to improve and enhance their quality of life also.
So, I think along with transformation, we all have to move towards responsible mining. And these things need not be taken as some charity that we are doing, this expenditure to improve the lives of our people cannot be considered as Corporate Social Responsibility, or something that we are doing beyond the call of our duty. Responsible mining, mining with care for the future of India is a responsibility that we have on all of us on our shoulders. And I have no doubt in my mind that each one of you in your endeavours, in your work, will look at bringing in the best of technical skills, technologies, innovative ideas to ensure that going forward, as we rapidly expand India’s mining capabilities, as we rapidly invest for national growth to create more wealth, to create more jobs, to improve the income levels of our people.
We will ensure that our mining activities truly are focused as responsible miners towards a better future for the people of India. I wish this seminar all success. I am sure with the collective wisdom, and I have always believed that as much as collaborate, both internally and with the external world, both within India and internationally, we will do our job better, we will learn new things. And I am sure this engagement that CII has partnered with the World Mining Congress, international organizing committee, will help develop a framework, new ideas, which then can be used in our different sectors of the mining world to serve India better.
I believe the World Mining Congress is entering its 60th year in 2018. At 60 in India, one becomes a senior citizen. One matures, I don’t know whether matures beyond requirement or moves from one threshold to another, from youthful energy, youthful working years to years of guidance, years of, as you said giving blessings also, but years where you can truly give back with all the 40-42 years that you must have engaged in your adult working life, all the wealth of information and knowledge that you have collected, it’s the years of giving back to our nation, our beloved country, to our people.
So, I am sure each one of you will take this up as a responsibility, as a challenge, as a duty, as a commitment and work along with the current day miners, current day mining industry to make mining a safer activity, a better activity, a more honest activity, a more fruitful activity. And as the Prime Minister says, we will Reform, Perform and Transform.
Thank you very much.
November 4, 2017 Speaking at International Conference on Environment, in New Delhi