Youth-stressed focus of this government to expand the infrastructure across different sectors, be it the road sector, railway sector, power, ports, shipping, the oil and gas sector; various different sectors of the economy which prepare India for the long run, and you will see that we have been expanding investments in different sectors at a very-very rapid pace to give you a sense of the kind of thrust that is being given.
In the railways alone, the capital expenditure during the period 2009 to 2014 at an average was about Rs 50,000 crore per year. In the current budget, we have planned a capex of 1.5 lakh crore rupees – 3 times the average of last 5 years before that, before we came in. And if you take the average expenditure that would have been done by this government in the five years, it would be probably over a lakh of crores per year.
In fact, on a lighter note, I am given to understand if you total the entire capex made in the railways, post independence, up to 2014, what we will be spending in five years of the Modi government would be very close to that number. Of course, one has to factor in the inflation and the cost of the investment pricing having changed, but that itself reflects the kind of focus that has been given to investments in infrastructure.
Safety being of paramount importance, next year we plan to invest about 73,000 crore alone on safety issues – 73,000 crores! But what I would like to talk to you about to take the dialogue, into another orbit if I may, is about the thinking of this government, how this government thinks, what is the logic behind any decision that we take and how there is a holistic plan, which covers different aspects when we are taking a policy decision.
I can pick up many of the decisions that we have taken, maybe, let me talk about signalling. It’s a decision we took very recently, but in one decision I hope to be able to show you how this government’s logical approach to a problem is taken forward in the best interest of this country, in the best interest of the people of India.
We are all aware that there are serious problems about safety, particularly, with accidents, head-on collisions. We are all aware about trains literally coming head-on with each other, and very often coming so close to each other that it could have caused very serious accidents. We are all well aware about the fact that we still have a nearly 100-year old signalling system, you know, red, amber, green, so motor pilots, the drivers of trains, are still dependent on finding the next signal seeing what he is allowed to do, whether he is allowed to pass, he has to stop, he has to slow down, and then take a call on his journey.
And because of that the headway between two trains continues to be almost 15-20 minutes, and in a nation where there is increasing demand for more trains, passenger traffic is growing rapidly, there is need to expand freight traffic, both for earning as well as to move large amounts of coal, large amounts of goods across the country, particularly, long distance.
In this situation, to have a 100-year old signalling system nearly, we may have in patches put in more modern systems, but across the railways we have a 100-year old system. In this situation, the choice before us was to continue with the existing system largely and identify gaps or bottlenecks, or smaller sections where we can introduce modern technology and then gradually over a period of time, maybe 20 years, maybe 30 years, introduce better signalling across the country. That is how typically the railways has planned its projects so far.
I am sure all of you are aware that any new project that railways has taken up from its budgeted cost at the time of approval to its finally implemented cost, the cost of completion, I doubt whether we would have more than 10-15% projects which have been within budget. Most projects would have had huge time over-run and even greater cost over-run. So, this signalling would probably happen over 20-30 years, and as against an estimated investment of $12 billion, say 75,000 crores, which I am given to understand it will cost if we implement it now, my own sense is the nation would land up spending Rs 2 or 3 lakh crore to modernise the signalling system in the country, in the carry-on business or business as usual scenario.
Also, the impact should have on increasing the line capacity, because once you have a modern system you can actually reduce the headway from 15-20 minutes to maybe 5 minutes, maybe 6 minutes, maybe 4 minutes. You would also be providing hugely for safety in the system, passengers will be far more secure. You will be adding to punctuality, because in the fog, imagine drivers literally crawling in the fog, waiting to see when the next signal comes and gives them a direction whether they are allowed to pass or no, and which is why you see punctuality going for a toss, particularly during fog days. We may have all suffered train journeys with long delays, particularly, in foggy weather.
And, typically, by the time we would have come to a stage of implementing this project across the country, technology would have moved on, and we would still be relegated to using some old, outdated technology. That would be typically how a project would be set up. And, of course, you talk to anybody in the department, they start by saying ‘but where are the funds, we don’t have money’. So, you go to the railways and give any idea, good, bad, ugly, you go and demand anything of the railways, or for that matter, the mindset of government in the past – we don’t have funds. Best way to say we can’t do anything – ‘we don’t have funds.’
What Prime Minister Modi did was to change the mindset from shortage of funds to availability of adequate funds for every good idea. So, when I proposed to him that in Bengaluru, I want to set up a suburban railway network, and most of us would have gone to Bengaluru some time or the other. It’s a disaster, traffic is a nightmare. It will take you 2 hours to go from one place to the other anywhere in Bengaluru.
My first visit after Railway Minister on 18th September, Anant Kumarji, honourable Minister of Petrochemicals, Chemicals, Fertilizers and Parliamentary Affairs, talked to me that since 1996 I have been fighting with the railways to create a suburban network in Bengaluru. 18th September was the day I visited when he talked to me about it. 18th October – in 30 days flat – we had a plan before me how this can be implemented. 30 days!
When your mindset changes, when you drive your department to work differently, to work at speed, this is what the same department, which would otherwise take two years, to prepare a DPR can give you a first-cut project cost and a first-cut idea of what can be done in 30 days, culminating in a budget announcement on 1st February, committing to build up a entirely new suburban network, largely elevated. Again, if we had done it typical fashion, it would have meant hundreds of acres of land to be procured in Bangalore. Can any of you imagine trying to procure land in Bangalore at the kind of cost that property is in Bangalore?
So, I said minimize the cost of land procurement, elevate the railway line wherever we don’t have existing land with the railways. So, we have been able to create a design for the suburban railway where out of 160 kilometres, 68 kilometres will be elevated. Now, it’s of course, much more costly, but far cheaper than the cost of land that I would require and certainly far faster, speedier than trying to acquire land in Bangalore. It will be near impossible.
So, we finally created the network design where we will only require 15 acres – 15 acres in the whole of Bengaluru to create this 160 kilometre network, leveraging wherever we have land, elevating wherever we don’t have land. 15 acres are those small patches just to balance out and have a straight line, linear line. We will need a few acres; there is a Binny Mill land which is closed for many-many years that the state government is to commit to give it to the railways for our yard. And we will need to create a yard outside Bangalore for maintenance. That would not be that great a difficulty getting that land. And I have provided 1200 crores for this land acquisition.
But if I had to create a normal routine project in Bengaluru, I would need 10-12-15,000 crores only for land acquisition. Here in 17,000 crores, we will set up a whole system which I am given to understand will serve anywhere between 25 to 30 lakh commuters in Bengaluru and de-clog and un-bottleneck the traffic system.
Mumbai, of course, was carrying one-third of the total passenger traffic in India, and for 70 years since independence, nobody has ever cared to look at Mumbai. For the first time, we have Prime Minister Modi who understands that one doesn’t have to look at the revenue alone; one has to look at passenger convenience. So we decided we will invest 50,000 crores in Mumbai and really upgrade that system to make it world-class. We can have air-conditioned local trains. We can have doors which are closed, so people don’t fall off the train. I am given to understand over 3000 people die in Mumbai alone for no fault of anybody, because the trains are overcrowded. And I have travelled in those trains for years and years, both as a student and in my early years of business. Every day I used to commute both on western railway, central railway, more often than not, hanging on the edge of the coach, because we would normally allow the older, elder people to go on, and मज़ा भी आता था थोड़ा लटकने का.
So, the thinking is to think holistically and find permanent solutions to a problem, not temporary. So, coming back to signalling, what we decided and I promise you, if you talk to any railway official, they will confirm to you. And of course, I hope I am trustworthy enough that I don’t need validation, but 30 seconds it took us, 30 seconds, to decide the Indian railways, and the people of India deserve to have the world’s most modern signalling system in India – not to be implemented over 20-30 years, but to be implemented over the next 6 years – prioritizing, of course, those lines which have heavy traffic. So, we have about 12,000 kilometres where more than half the freight traffic and about two-third the passenger traffic is active or uses the railway tracks. That will, of course, be our first priority.
But, we will give a contract for the entire Indian railways, so that we can get economies of scale. Most of you are aware of my programme earlier as a Power Minister on the LED front, where we were able to bring down cost by 87%, thanks to economies of scale and thanks to honesty and integrity in procurement of the product.
The same way, what did we do about signalling? There are 6 suppliers of this ETCS technology which we are planning to implement. ETCS is the most modern technology that I could locate anywhere in the world. In the whole wide world today, only 20,000 kilometres have been converted to ETCS, only 20,000 kilometres, in the whole world. China took 10 years to do 10,000 kilometres. But should that be a restraint for India, or can we take leadership position? That’s the question before this nation today.
And we decided to bite the bullet. We decided that no, we can do 60,000 kilometres in 6 years. Let’s go for it. And the moment we started talking to the signalling guys, of course, one of them out of 6 started arguing with me in the meeting that this is near impossible. It’s never been done, it can’t be done. I said, gentleman you are free to leave the room. I will talk to the other five. You need not quote; I am not forcing you to quote in my contract. He says, no, no, we will certainly quote. We can do it in 6 years.
And all 6 suppliers have confirmed we can do it in 6 years. All 6 are very excited, because that specs were not drawn in my cabin or in the cabin of my railway board or officials, they were drawn in consultation with all 6, so that we have agnostic specs. Nobody can say that, you know, these specs will help Meenakshi ji or it will help Shehzad, or it will help Jagdambika Palji or it will help Mahesh Giri, उदित राज की भी चिंता नहीं की है. हमने कहा सबके हिसाब से specs बने.
All 6 should be able to bid. And we are not going to do what was traditionally done in the railways, because then you would be told, you know, 60,000 is too much. Let’s do bidding, whoever wins the bid will get 30% of the order, second lowest will get 22%, third will get 20%. So, effectively, you have told all the bidders that you are all going to get a piece of the cake, you need not bid very aggressively. Howsoever aggressive you are, you will get only maximum 30%, and if you are not aggressive you will still get 20%. So why bid aggressively? You can have a cosy comfortable relation where everybody makes money.
I said, no, I am going to give 60,000 kilometres maybe to one party, at best two, to create more competition. So, you fight for pricing. Even if you have to give it at a loss, win the order. Because, later on, having supplied 65,000 route kilometres, which effectively is 1,18,000 line kilometres of signalling system, whoever supplies that will be a world leader. His competitiveness nobody can ever beat, because having done so much and to such scale, his pricing is bound to be better, his technology cost would have all been absorbed. He would be the most competitive and every future order in the world he is bound to get.
And, obviously, when he has to do such orders, he will make in India. It will provide jobs. It will provide a whole ecosystem. I have just written to the Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister to set up a facility in Uttar Pradesh where we even not only we create coaches; we have a factory in Rae Bareli. It’s planned that it can make 1000 coaches, I am tripling that, within a year of commissioning, we are tripling that to 2600 or 3000 coaches.
And I have asked the honourable Chief Minister give me some land, we will create a whole ancillary network around it. So, more and more ancillarisation takes place in Uttar Pradesh, creates jobs for the people of Uttar Pradesh. Just like the auto hubs in Detroit or in Sanand, or right in our neighbourhood at Gurugram.
The whole thinking is changing. And with this signalling system coming in to this scale, made in India, India will then start exporting to the whole world, the same signalling system with this modern technology. And to my mind, that $12 billion that they have told me is going to be the cost, I am very confident we will bring it down by 25%, at the minimum, by doing an honest transparent bidding at large scale. Maybe first few months, first year, year and a half they can even import, but with a commitment that they will make in India in the long run.
And by the time six years are over and we have converted all this to the ETCS electronic signalling system, we would have by then expanded the railway network by another 50%. So, that will open up further opportunities for business in India. So, I am confident that all six of them are going to do this project at a loss, but happily at a loss. Because it will open up the whole wide world for them to then become the pioneer and leader to supply.
It’s the thinking of the government. I have said money will be no problem, I will give you a letter of credit, railways will give a letter of credit. So, you don’t have to come to me for payment, don’t worry about any hassles in payment, you will get a letter of credit for six year supplies. And, by the way, we are going to give letter of credit for all our supplies in railways, to domestic supplies also.
I was very shocked when I heard if you import a product you give an LC, but if you are a domestic supplier to धक्के खाओ payment के लिए. The first step I have already put in transparently on the website, so if anybody’s payment is getting inordinately delayed, the whole world can see it. And, secondly, we are now planning to give a LC, because the cost of that LC is so miniscule, being a sovereign, railways is the sovereign, the cost is so miniscule, but the advantage is all my suppliers can then discount that LC at maybe 8-9%, 10% and enjoy low-cost working capital and supply more competitively priced goods to the railways.
And look at the advantages, I will add capacity in my rail system because of this new signalling, I will make it much safer, chances of collusion will significantly reduce. I will make sure that in the fog also trains run punctually, because then you can actually have a driver-less train, not that I propose to do it. But you can actually have a driver-less train, because computers will talk to each other, and if a train is coming too close to another train there will be an automatic breaking system, even if somebody has fallen off to sleep or somebody is not really, though by and large, our train pilots and train motormen are really very-very conscientious.
But then we take the holistic thinking to the next level. I will need Wi-Fi across the railway line for this. So, what will I do? I will provide Wi-Fi on 8000 stations across the country along with this. And when 8000 stations have Wi-Fi, and some of you may have enjoyed Wi-Fi in some of the stations where it has already come up, some 250-300 stations already have Wi-Fi. I hope you have seen it. It has the finest speeds. You won’t get that speed in Starbucks in New York also.
But then somebody can ask me, in Jhumri Telaiya so far away, or Ramnagar in UP, there is hardly anybody on the station, why are you providing Wi-Fi over there? I will provide Wi-Fi over there for all the poor people, all the villagers in the vicinity of that railway station. I will invite all the children who missed out, who have not been able to board the train of progress as all of us in this room have. I will allow those children; I will allow women to come and use Wi-Fi and explore the world at the railway station. I will make it free of charge.
I will allow the farmer to come and see what best way he can get a better price for his produce. He can just hop across to the… and railway station is something 1.2 billion people in India know which is the nearest railway station to them. By and large, somebody somewhere has always travelled, 8 billion nearly, 8.5 billion passengers every year, not unique, of course, repeat travellers included. But in this room, I suspect there may not be a single person who has not taken a train journey any time. Would there be anybody in this room who has not ever done a train journey? I suspect it will be impossible to find that anywhere in the country, in any audience, anywhere. That much the railways impacts India, and the people of India.
And then once I have Wi-Fi across the network, then logically, and since the trains are going to be talking to each other through computers, I can have CCTV cameras in every coach of Indian railway, on every station in Indian railway, in every colony and including all offices, so that my people know that they are being watched when they are working also. अब इसको ज्यादा publicize मत करना.
But certainly, if there are CCTV cameras in every coach, and which you must publicize, every lady would feel more comfortable and secure. Every child who may have run away from home can be detected through data analytics from the computer, which will analyze the feed of the CCTV camera and will figure out that this child looks to be lost, he’s not comfortable. You now, you can easily make out through data analytics, and with modern technology, artificial intelligence becoming centre stage, it’s not very difficult to figure out something is fishy here. Either a young child is being, human trafficking is going on or a young girl is being misled.
So, you see the holistic thinking, signalling; its impact on safety, its impact on capacity, its impact on punctuality, modern technology, Make in India, provide jobs, serve the world from India at competitive prices, get Wi-Fi onto stations, get everybody connected to the technological advancements of the world, let every citizen of India explore the world, bring safety into coaches, bring safety on the railway station.
And, frankly, I can go on and on, but that’s the new mindset of Indian railways. I invite all of you to be a part of that journey.
Question and Answer
Q: Hello, thank you very much sir, my name is Nitin. First and foremost your opening statement about Bangalore (inaudible), I can actually vouch for this that there is a big-big traffic issue. And if the suburban railways come over, I think I will be one of the most peaceful person.
A: No, I take strong objection. Where is the ‘if’? Where is the ‘if’ coming from?
Q: You know, when you spoke about Bangalore and you said, you became Minister in September, and by October you had the funds?
A: Well, I had the first cut.
Q: First cut, okay! You are not the first Minister Sir of this government and this government has been there for three years, why did it take for you to become Mantri to get this? And one more question, still staying on safety and on connectivity, when we talk about Mumbai. And you said, you travelled in Suburban Railway, the most awful thing when we saw the Elphinstone and you needed Bombay Sappers to do, you know, get that bridge in order, why? Why can’t the railways do it themselves?
A: Thank you, both are very good questions. First of all, this process of setting up a suburban railway in Bangalore was started by Sadanand Gowdaji. Obviously, in 30 days one can’t prepare the whole costing and the detailing of the suburban railway. Because the work had started in Mr Gowda’s time and a lot of the background work was done, I was able to expedite it and add the elevated corridor dimensions.
Q: Elections had nothing to do with that? The coming Karnataka elections?
A: No, there is no election in Mumbai. There is no election in Delhi where I have met with all the honourable members and we have already discussed what we can do with the ring railway to provide a suburban service interchanging with metros in Delhi, there is no election happening here. And, for that matter, I can list out 500 things. Signalling is not an election issue, is not going to get me a single vote, so I can put that $12 billion to try and make everybody happy.
So, I think one thing I can assure you Smitaji, Prime Minister Modi has not taken a single decision considering कि election होने वाला है तो यह करो या election नहीं होने वाला है तो यह छोड़ दो| I know on so many occasions, we have argued कि sir let’s postpone this decision a little bit, there is a potential election, people may not take it nicely. He has always had only one question, if this in public interest, is this in national interest? If it is in public, and obviously, what is in public interest is in national interest and vice versa.
If it is in public and national interest, it will be done today. And he said, all of us, Meenakshiji, Maheshji, Jagdambikaji, all of us, Amanji, we are all responsible for taking that message to the people of India who trust Prime Minister Modi, who trust that when this government is taking a decision, often a bitter pill, but we are taking it with the best interests of the country in mind, irrespective of the timing.
Now, regarding the Elphinstone Road, very-very good question, because I am the person who took that call, and I took that decision again with a holistic view point. A very sad tragedy had happened; it was very painful, very early on in my tenure. I spent the day of the tragedy and the next day which happened to be Dussehra, understanding what could have been done that such issues don’t recur. I found that the budget approval for that 12 metre wide and larger foot-over bridge was made in the budget presented on February 1st, 2016.
But the processes by which railways, and that is the change in mindset I just spoke about, were such that for the last 18 months after that the whole thing was being processed, processed, processed, design, remodelling yard, tender specs, etc, etc. 22nd September, the final design was frozen and tender specs were made and given for uploading on the website.
And, ironically, and very-very sadly, on 29th September, the day the accident happened in the morning; around that same time those specs were uploaded on the railway website. Obviously, it couldn’t have been done after the accident, because in railways जहाँ 18 महीने लगते हैं वहां एक घंटे में तो कोई कुछ कर नहीं सकता| But it was 22nd, I saw all the files, details, 22nd it was all approved for uploading on the website.
But look at the irony, in 18 months a bridge should have been made, right? But, over the years, and maybe over 160 years of bureaucracy, the whole thing has almost become like a … there’s no choice we have to do it.
Now, obviously, I needed to jolt the system. I needed to give the system a new thinking. It was my Bombay BJP President, Mr Ashish Shelar, who first came up with this idea. I acknowledge it was not my original idea. When Ashish Shelar talked to me, it just stuck me as a fantastic idea to get the army to come and build Elphinstone Road or if there is any other bridge, because I had ordered an audit of all the 125 suburban stations, where else there is a potential lurking in the dark. So, it just clicked to me, I talked to Nirmalaji, she said the army is absolutely happy to serve the people of India. And this is really a serious issue which you need to address quickly, I am happy to go along with it.
And, why the army? Railways doesn’t have workers of its own or the equipment which it makes on its own. We have to go through tendering process, procure the goods, get a contractor, contractor works at his own speed. Mind you, in Mumbai, you only get 2 hours every night to work, because the trains run 22 hours, so traffic block is 2 hours in the night to work. Army knows how to work in these very trying circumstances. In Siachen, they make bridges with 2-3-4 hours of work in a day. Army has their own equipment.
Q: सर वह तो calamity के लिए हैना सर?
A: नहीं, नहीं, मैं बताता हूँ, देश में भी कुछ internal होता है तो calamity मानी जाती है| आपको calamity नहीं लगती होगी जो 23 परिवारों ने अपने दिल के टुकड़े को lose किया उसके लिए calamity थी और मेरे लिए calamity थी, अगर आपमें से किसी को calamity नहीं लगती है तो मुझे ताज्जुब होता है|
Then I would have to had to tender the whole thing, tendering has its own time consuming thing. The contractor will mobilize work two hours a day. He will have to procure equipment. I applied my mind who else could do it, nobody in the government sector could have done it. They have their own equipment, they have ready bridges designed by their engineers and kept for emergencies such as this.
And it’s not the first time, other bridges have fallen. They have made a bridge in 48 hours to serve the people of India. So, it’s not as if कि पहली बार हो रहा है| This has been happening for 70 years since independence. Whenever there is internal calamity also, army comes to the rescue.
Similarly, they don’t have to do any contracting, they have their own workmen. So, workmen, equipment and the material to make the bridge is available, so they could do it in 3 months. And, what did I do? I sent officers from 17 zones to come and see how they do it. So, it was like a skill development, a training of my engineers and officers how things can be done faster.
And I am delighted to share with you, the challenge that the railways took up was so exciting that 26th January, they made ready 3 foot-over bridges, 5 days before the army foot-over bridge got ready. Because वह दिल को जो चोट पहुंची उसमें पूरा रेलवे सिस्टम galvanize हो गया to do better work, my job is done. Army in 3 bridges has made my whole railway think differently and they forced me to have an inauguration of those three foot-over bridges, because they wanted to prove a point कि we can do it also. And the Chief Minister inaugurated them on 26th January, even before the army could finish theirs.
Now, this is, of course, because those bridges were tendered out earlier, otherwise, it couldn’t have been done. But they worked day and night to do it, and that’s that competitive spirit that is helping me to bring the railways to think in a new style of working.
So, I think it was one of the wisest decisions. And to share with you, at the Foreign Secretary’s dinner, I met the Chief of Army Staff who came up to me before I gave this order. He said, “Sir, we are grateful.” These are his words. “We are grateful to the Indian railways for allowing my officers to serve the people of India.” That’s the Indian army for us.
Q: But that actually leads to one more thing, your choice of using the army was an intelligent one to actually get things done immediately, but is there an interdepartmental rivalry in railways because of which the policies and plans are being delayed or not implemented?
A: Well, frankly, I don’t think there is any rivalry as such, but certainly, the bureaucracy created over many-many years automatically creates certain silos in working. We are now working overtime to try and break those silos, bring in more synergy. So, you will be happy to know, for example, the railway board now meets every week, once every week. कहाँ महीनों-महीनों तक, जगदंबिका जी या कोई सीनियर लोग यहाँ पर हैं बता सकेंगे कि महीनों तक मीटिंग ही नहीं होती थी| मैं जिधर जिस ज़ोन के रिव्यू के लिए जाता था, यह क्या हो रहा है? बोर्ड के पास पेंडिंग है! यह क्या हो रहा है? बोर्ड के पास पेंडिंग है!
In one meeting alone, and now we are in the mood of delegating everything. One meeting alone, 21 pages of authorities were delegated down the line. I mean I was hospitalized recently in Mumbai, so the local chief of the Bombay Central Hospital of Railways came and was sitting with me. He said, sir thanks to that delegation, two lives have been saved – a fellow who needed a bone marrow transplant, and somebody who needed a, I think a liver transplant. In the normal course, it would have gone from him to the division, to the zone, some queries would have come back, then gone back up to cycle to railway board, some queries would have come back, the guy would have been dead and long gone.
Now with delegated powers, he was able to send him to the best hospital and at least two of my railway employees’ lives have been saved. I am delighted about that.
Q: That’s great news. We are going to throw it across to the audience. Two questions, I am afraid, because we will run out of time. So, yes the first questions, could the mike be given there please?
Q: Sir, my name is Aakash Jindal. I am an economist. Now, I have very high respect for Mr Modi and you, in fact, I seriously believe Mr Modi is the best Prime Minister till now. But when I talk about the bullet train, my economics really confuses me and fails me, Sir 17 billion USD, 50 years loan from Japan, that’s what the websites tell me. So, 50 years loan from Japan with interest. I plan to live for another 30-40 years, for 30-40 years I will be paying, then my kids would be paying that loan. Now, what do I get in terms of that much loan burden, I mean I have to pay interest, though it’s .1%. My metro fare Rohini to Connaught Place Rs 19 to Rs 40 in last 6 months.
A: I understand your point. Just for your knowledge, of course, since you raised the metro issue. Metro fares in India are highly subsidized, and none of the metros in the entire country is making money. They are all a public service, a public utility, even after the increase, it’s a very-very nominal price that is charged on the metro. But coming to the bullet train, because metro doesn’t report to me, but I genuinely believe it’s a great service. I use it every day, not every day, every time I have to travel from airport to here or go any far off place.
But coming to the bullet train, again exactly, what I reflected on the signaling system, the changed thinking of the government of India under Mr Modi. The last time India saw a fast train or any modicum also of modernisation in the trains was the Rajdhani in 1969. For all of you in this room, for the last 50 years, India has seen no modernisation in the train system in the country. And I am sure, all of you will agree that we can’t afford to be hoping to become a superpower but live in technologies which are 50 years old.
After Rajdhani, railways just stopped modernizing. Do the people of India deserve better, or do the people of India deserve to remain consigned to inefficiency and outdated, out-modeled ways of transport all our lives? Now the bullet train project, the loan would be about $13 billion, about $4 billion we would be putting in – $3 or $4 billion, exact figure I don’t know, when we convert it but it’s about a lakh and 10,000 crores. My own hope is I will be able to save 10,000-15,000 crore in that also by efficiently implementing it and faster implementation and more competitive bidding.
But be that as it may, what are we getting along with that? We are getting the entire technology of Shinkansen technology to make in India. Now, 500 kilometers is only the first project my friend, my own sense is India needs 8-10,000 kilometers of high speed train network. Why should the people of India be consigned to live in medieval times and not have modern good systems by which we can go from one place to another faster, more efficiently, more safely.
Now the bullet train is entirely an elevated track. It will be exclusively for passengers. And the calculations that you are doing, you are forgetting that that .1% also has a 15% moratorium and fixed interest rate for 50 years. By the time the train comes up, and by the time repayment starts after 15 years, can you imagine that what we will be paying will be so miniscule compared to what calculations you are doing today, even if we factor in the rupee depreciation, if at all it happens. Right now the rupee is getting strong, most people are complaining that मोदी जी ने रुपया बड़ा strong कर दिया| Though I personally feel that’s a sign of India’s growing relevance and our strength as a fundamentally strong economy. But at .1%, assuming rupee doesn’t depreciate, you are looking at interest cost of what 800 crore rupees, 800 or 850 crore rupees in a year? It’s miniscule! Even if the rupee depreciates, what we will be looking as interest cost would go up slightly.
But, the big picture is that we will have technology. We will Make in India. We will rapidly expand, now at lower costs, on the back of Make in India. We will provide jobs to millions of people in the country in the whole ecosystem around Shinkansen or other high-speed trains. And the biggest thing is, I don’t know if you are aware, today a lot of our perishable goods are totally destroyed, because we don’t have adequate and timely delivery or transport from one point to the other. As these high-speed trains become a reality and become a routine across the country, we will be able to actually encourage farmers to transport perishable goods long distances, so that no rich person will ever have to import flowers from Singapore for a marriage or from Europe. And we will actually have our Indian farmers getting that high value product in India.
Q: My name is Deepak Bohra. I appreciate what you are doing regarding safety. But sir I am not travelling by the Shatabdi. It’s invariably late. Delhi to Dehradun – 1 and 1.5 hours late, Dehradun to Delhi – 1 and 1.5 hours late, and I stopped travelling. Is there something that you can do, and not talk about the bullet train sir. You have got to get the infrastructure right as of now, the present sir, Shatabdi is there sir.
A: Okay, in your meal, when you have rice, do you say अब मुझे और कुछ नहीं चाहिए. I will just have salt and rice. I don’t want sabzi, I don’t want parotha, I don’t want daal. You don’t do that, right? One or the other is not one at the cost of the other. I am not saying that because of bullet train I don’t have money for safety. I just told the audience, I don’t know if you were there, that 73,000 crores we are going to invest only towards safety and safety related investment, in one year. That’s one and a half times what was spent by the Congress, for the entire capex of the railways in a year. One and a half times only on safety, total is three times.
Now, it’s not one or the other. Bullet train will work on its own speed and we will set it up. At the same time, we have to strengthen the entire system. But as I just explained, were you there when I said the signaling story? So, after all, fog के लिए मेरे पास कोई और device ही नहीं है. We have done a fog pass device, but it’s a rudimentary way. It’s not made any significant difference. थोड़ा better हुआ है. But once we have that signaling, so should we go in for modern technology or no that’s the question, bullet train is a part of that question, modern signaling is a part of that question.
Or we can all relegate ourselves to live as backwards, as outdated citizens, living in the past glory. We will never be able to get things better or safer. And lastly, one cause which I am happy to even share and acknowledges me for the trains getting delayed in the last four months, little inordinately, and that is also related to safety by the way. Indian railways has never been able to do the track renewal, you know, the replacement of worn out tracks, as much as was required. So, typically, railways does about 2,500 kilometres, line kilometers of track replacement every year. And because of that, there is a huge backlog building up, so we have a large backlog which the country has to make up. Otherwise, the train travel is keeping on getting unsafe.
In New Delhi, we have had so many derailments. Now, all of New Delhi stations, platform after platform I am taking up and replacing the entire track and making a apron over there by which it doesn’t suffer from the kind of problems that we have had of late in New Delhi. Similarly, across the country this whole backlog of track renewal, I have taken it upon myself that in the next two years I want to make zero the entire backlog.
So I will tell you how this government thinks and works. I have a shortage of rail, I didn’t have enough rail required for replacement. I diverted all the rail from new tracks to replacement and as against about 233 kilometers that were being replaced every month average, between April to August before I came in, you will be happy to know in December, we replaced 470-plus kilometers of rail track, in January we replaced 576 kilometers of rail track, worn out track. We are making railways that much more safer, as we replace every amount of worn out tracks. And in the next two years, I am hoping to cover all the backlog and replacing a track means a traffic block. You have to stop the trains on that route, for that period.
But that was the hobson’s choice before me. Do I focus on safety, or I do the mistake that has happened for some unfortunate reason where those workers were trying to clear the track without a traffic block and landed up having such a massive accident. I think Utkal Express या कौनसी थी वह, जहाँ पर वह लोग काम कर रहे थे वह replacement of track and the train came and… Now, to my mind, I have taken the decision in the public interest, in the interest of safe travel for all of you. I know that that punctuality is equally important. I am trying to get the railways to start looking at more better planning, so they do hundred things at the same time, which we have achieved in suburban Mumbai at least.
Now in suburban Mumbai, when there is that 2-hour traffic block, 100 projects are done, including removing the muck from the railway tracks. 100 projects, simultaneously, across the network! When we take a 8-hour traffic block on a Sunday, let’s say, if you have to put a girder for the foot-over bridge, we will have tonnes and tonnes of things happening across the network, all coinciding at the same time for efficient utilization of ….
But, this is a harsh reality. It’s a legacy this government in 2014. That backlog somehow some government will have to bite the bullet and make up, otherwise, Indian railways will not be able to provide safety, security into travel. And my own objective is that when we do all of these things we will be able to bring the charm back to the rail travel in India.
Q: Thank you Piyushji. We will wind up now. And I think I speak on behalf of everybody when we say that the first and foremost thing we want is as you said getting into a station, getting into the train, feel safe, secure. As a woman, I welcome this what you said that there would be CCTV, and you know, it’s single women travelling by train, whether suburban or whether across cities and they feel safe when they get on. And, of course, clean loos. Again, as a woman I say that this is one of the biggest things that we women face. We need clean loos, so we expect that.
A: Give me nine months, 8000 stations will have clean loos.
Q: We will have you back here sir, in nine months. And, of course, stress-free ticketing, stress-free getting out of the station, moving out, and then the last mile connectivity. We expect all this from you, and hopefully, being an interactive kind of a government where, we have Arvind Gupta here, he will probably tell us next about how we will get to know, month by month how you are progressing in this. Thank you very much. I request Mr Prem Prakash to felicitate Mr Piyush Goyal on behalf of Asian News International.
February 11, 2018 Speaking at Press Conference, in Vijayapura, Karnataka