A: A city is for people, no doubt about it, but what we are looking for is comfort, what we are looking for is ease of living. Most people who come to the cities are, of course, people who are looking for a livelihood, who are looking comfort in living, who are looking for better quality of education or healthcare, so it’s a holistic dream that each one had when they first migrated. As he rightly said, there were no cities to begin with, unless we believe in the Bahubali story where in the movie they have set up a whole new city along the Ganges.
But to my mind, if we can address the various human aspects, starting from birth to death – and there is a very interesting anecdote around it. When Prime Minister Modi was the Chief Minister of Gujarat, he had commissioned a study and some youngsters had sat down and tried to assess how many different trades or professions touch a person’s life from birth to death. And, possibly in birth, you can take pre-birth also and you can take post-death also, and the assessment was about 5000 – 5000 different skill sets – come in touch with a person from birth to death.
Now a city is all of that, multiplied by probably so many number of people, so it’s really more than the most complex machine that would possibly be there in the NASA labs or the European CERN laboratory. And, therefore, in that sense, I think both are right. End of the day, the nerve centre will have to be the human being, happiness quotient is what we are all here for in any case. But how we are going to bring all of that infrastructure and all of the enablers to a better quality of life, to happiness, to ease of living, bring that all on the table meshed into a beautifully running, well-oiled machine, which makes our life comfortable and easy to live. That’s the city of tomorrow that we are all aspiring for.
A: Well, yesterday, I saw Padman, and I think that says it all. Technology can be an enabler for better stuff; it can also be a deterrent for betterment of society. In some sense, in that movie I don’t know how many of you have had the opportunity to see it, but I was really delighted to see it. I really enjoyed it. Because truly, technology has to be relevant to your circumstances, to your country’s needs and what he has demonstrated in that is that we have a country of a billion plus people. We have at least 500 million people who need sanitary pads. But technology and the fancy machines around it have made that pad very unaffordable for more than 70-75% of the women of the country. And that man as shown in the movie in his quest to take care of his wife, his sister’s health makes every effort and then finally creates a machine which costs only Rs 90,000 to make a sanitary pad of reasonably or almost the same level of hygiene and quality. And I believe it’s based on an actual story of a person down south called Murgeshan or something. And Murgeshan has been providing these pads for as low as Rs 2 and helping the poor, helping the villagers also get the benefit of proper hygiene, proper healthcare.
Now, I had, for example, the Ambassador of the US this afternoon, and in the course of discussions he was talking about Hi-tech and while India is emerging into the new age, we had this to offer and that to offer. And I told him, look gentleman, while I am very happy to engage with the most modern technology, wherever essential, I also have to keep in mind that my per capita income is $1800, yours is $60,000 or thereabouts. I can’t have everybody pay the kind of value that a person would pay on an SLR train and between Washington and New York. The same person, probably, Anand or I, in Washington will pay a certain value for that journey, but in India for that same journey, if we were asked to pay an equivalent value we would blow our head off or we will say we would rather fly.
It’s also our own mindset and our ability as a nation or the values at which we work. I said what I need is outcomes. If the outcome takes me to what I want, so my destination, if I can reach safely, fast, with reasonable security, comfort, then I had rather not look for a BMW, I would look for a Beetle or maybe a Maruti car. Or a Mahindra electric vehicle. But very clearly, one has to have technology which is relevant to situation and circumstances. So, if we try to impose, let’s say, technologies which are going to dim the lights in this room automatically and it adds to the rent of this room by Rs 10,000. It’s just a very vague example I am giving. Then the management is obviously going to see whether it’s worth it, or in the Indian context, we will have a person who dims it for Rs 15,000-20,000, and maybe the marketability of this room will increase. We will have more clients willing to pay, and different price points too matter in India.
So, I think technology should be taken for outcomes and relevance. While at the same time where technologies have a huge outcome, for example, we introduced the LEDs. Now, somebody could have argued that LEDs cost Rs 500-600, why you promoting LEDs? But there it was a conscious call that with economies of scale, with honesty in purchase, we were confident the price will come down. And the cost benefit was very evident; the people of India would save thousands and thousands of crores using LEDs. So, when the outcome is significant that can be seen, get the best of technology, don’t compromise. But always keep it relevant to your purse, and to the outcomes and needs of the people of the country.
A: Can I make a small addition to that. I was just telling Anand in the room before we came in. I was in a small village outside Belgaum, which is now more popularly known as Belagavi. I was doing a couple of programmes there, then I met with the women, I met with the children. The happiness on their face, the soul that you are talking of is to die for. You can’t see that in our cities anymore. The joy, the way they met you, it was so pleasurable. I can’t even explain it.
In fact, I made a comment in my address there. I said that all of us are all the time reading books and preparing policy how we can take urban India to rural India, honestly, we need to bring rural India to urban India, and the heart of rural India to urban India. Having said that, we can’t wish away technology, it’s there. And what Anand said is right, whether it’s a person in an emergency, a doting grandfather; it’s us in government multitasking with so many things, or anybody for that matter.
And, by the way, Anand if you had told us this earlier that you are playing with Sim city and it’s got you over here, all of us would have played with Sim city when we were kids. But having said that, what I was trying to lead to was that we can’t have such a large section of people in the country who are alienated from what is happening in the technology world. We will have to quickly all of us put our heads together, see what can be done so that, just like there was that argument about net neutrality. I think the time has come for us to discuss technology neutrality. Can 1.3 billion people in India also benefit from these new technologies? Can they become more affordable for people in the remotest parts of the country to also get the look and feel of an iPad or of what’s happening in the world?
Actually, for that matter, even in the United States, I have heard of people who have not gone out of their town, a whole life lived in a small town and they have never travelled out. But with technology, now they are exploring the world. Similarly, I think we need to take all of this to the interiors of India, so that that child who is being deprived of this, he also sees what’s happening in the world. And I promise you, from out of all these children, if we were to connect them with technology, you may have an Einstein coming out or maybe a very-very successful mathematician coming out or you may find some good cinematographer who may not have studied at Harvard film-making, but may still be able to produce a very beautiful film.
So, I think we need to all of us seriously address this issue of making technology available at the rudimentary level, at the basic level. And today an iPad or basic Wi-Fi or internet is rudimentary.
Q: In fact, the Minister Sir is very perceptive, because the topic which was grappling my mind was inclusivity, and in your own way, you have used technology as a metaphor for inclusivity. So, the question I have in my mind is which I have been thinking about is we all talk about migration. Today also some people spoke about it. We speak about rural-urban divide. I see technology and many other facets as a world is, somewhere the barriers are becoming stronger, somewhere the barriers are crashing. As a person in the governing arena, do you see a meaningful agenda for leveraging various things like technology and to making a unified state where urban and rural leverage each other and I create what I call is a millennial who is neither urban, nor rural? It’s taking another thought forward, so that we can bring the country to a… I am just stepping back a little; I am not just talking about cities. Do you see a meaningful agenda on that?
A: Well, I think there are huge possibilities. I have just started on a project which I will share with you, in which in a small humble way I am hoping to do exactly what I articulated earlier. To make the Indian railways safe, I am planning to bring in the most modern signalling system to the entire railway network in India, which will mean a 118,000 line kilometres of railway will have a European ETCS signalling system. By the way, the entire world today has only 20,000 kilometres of that. We are embarking on a plan to do 6 times that in the next 6 years. And all the 6 suppliers first told me, this is ridiculous, it can’t be done. So, when I told one of them okay, you are free to leave the room, I will talk to the other five. He said no-no, but I will be participating, I want to do it.
And, today, India is looking at such challenging tasks; can we be better than the best in the world? But, look at the concomitant advantages I get out of that. Because I need to set up a signalling system, I will need Wi-Fi across the whole network. Once I need Wi-Fi, then I won’t wait for six years, I will start with Wi-Fi. Getting Wi-Fi across the length and breadth of India, because we have 8000 plus stations all over the country, our trains go everywhere.
Once I will get Wi-Fi in, I will do two things. One – I will wire up the entire trains that carry passengers and every station with CCTV cameras, making train travel safer, particularly, for women, children. I will be able to address the issue of human trafficking significantly, because artificial intelligence will help me detect if any young girls or young child or even a young lady is seemingly uncomfortable, is not a normal passenger. And I am told artificial intelligence can help us assess whether somebody is a lost child, a lost traveller – something like that movie of Kareena Kapoor and Shahid, which one was that, I love that movie?
Jab We Met! I think my kids and I must have seen it about 30-40 times by now. And the last part of this link – 8000 plus stations I will have Wi-Fi on them, and I will open it up to the villagers in the entire vicinity, and every villager by and large knows his nearest railway station in India. So, I will open it up, I will get companies like Mahindra. Give me a list of all the places where you have Mahindra establishments, and I am serious about it.
What I am planning is that I will – I have already talked to CII, by the way, and you were past president CII if I am not mistaken – I have already talked to CII, I have offered them that all your members have establishments all over the country and wherever you don’t have we will push it through our PSUs. And in all these stations, I will set up the infrastructure taking Wi-Fi, because I need it for my signalling and CCTV cameras. And you send your person there with the equipment, maybe a printer, some iPad, some computers – goes-in in the morning, sets up shop on my Wi-Fi kiosk or whatever I will create and we will invite young boys and girls, women, farmers to come and use that through the day, free of charge. We will pay for the entire bandwidth and everything. The CSR component of the private sector will help manage it, because I believe they will manage it better than my people sitting there. And I am trying to struggle whether they were on duty, they were not on duty, this that. He will send somebody from his nearest factory to that station.
I mean, I talked to a cement manufacturer. He said I have 20 plants. I said how many stations near your plants? He said 30 or 40. I said, would you handle 30 or 40 stations this facility. He said, happily, he said it will help me get good people. And then those kids can explore the world, they can see what’s happening all over the technology space, new areas of…. After all, even in Padman, by the way, he gets the breakthrough because a small child opens up on internet how the sanitary pad is manufactured in the machine.
So, really technology can do wonders. We just need to take it to the people of India. So, I think inclusive development can be dovetailed with our routine development agenda.
A: Well, it’s an issue where you and I, and all of us will have no choice. There is going to be a natural migration. And there will be growing cities. Because I don’t see in the near future our ability to provide the kind of infrastructure that’s required in 600,000 villages, enough opportunities for growing families to survive on small incomes in the villages. Also, with the declining share of agriculture in the GDP, more so, because agriculture with some more mechanisation or better productivity is going to lead to less and less people engaged in that.
We will have a natural flow into cities. I personally have been of the opinion now for about 17 years, it was in 1999 – 18 years – that I gave a paper to the then Prime Minister Mr Vajpayee where I had suggested that while we are trying to improve our cities and do some good about it, India should learn from the Chinese model and possibly create 100 completely new cities, like your Mahindra World City that you have attempted – where we can really look at a holistic development for a planned city, a city without slums. So, even the construction labour, you are ensuring that while construction is going on there will be quarters built for them. So, probably, that will be the first thing you will invest in.
Cities where you will have planned roads, planned density, proper domestic quarters for domestic help, where we will have as you said the proper public transport, living, eating, working, recreation – the entire gamut, I think we should all of us think whether… And, in some sense, the SEZ policy at that time had come out of that paper in 1999, I think 2001-02 we came out with the SEZ policy. Over a period of time, sadly, while Mr Vajpayee had approved only 3 SEZs, one in Gujarat, something in down South, possibly one in – no, only two, two were approved by the NDA-I.
The next few years, we actually diluted this concept to say that even if you had 25 acres, you could get an SEZ approval. And in that process, this concept of new cities got diluted to a tax tool, or a tax planning tool. Makes me feel sad, but really as a nation if we can even now think in terms of or some of the smaller towns can be better developed, we may find more traction. But it’s unavoidable that people are going to move from the villages to the cities, even that same village where I went near Belagavi, I could feel that the number of sheer, number of people there were disproportionately high to what I would imagine that area would need. And, therefore, this is irreversible.
And as my late father used to say, we must also recognize there is a lot of poverty in many of these villages. It’s not as if they all come out of choice. Many of them really can’t have two square meals or have good decent income in the villages. So, they do come to the cities. The reality is in the cities, nobody does of hunger. All said and done, you will get some opportunity or the other to make two ends meet to get a couple of square meals, you may be able to send some amount home, and that some amount also is very valuable.
So, I think we should accept that there will be more people into the cities, unless we plan faster and better now… You can’t stop that migration, this is not a communist state or something where you can stop that migration, and necessity also will draw them to the cities. Let’s plan better, that’s going to be the important thing for us.
Q: If I may just say this, since you have been objective and realistic enough to say that this is inevitable, Shirish who is right here, from the McKinsey was there, our knowledge partner is here. You mentioned in your session, Shirish about the fact that most governments around the world are funding cities, now you had proposed that there should be a particular percentage of GST that goes in. Right now, India does not fund its cities at all, am I right? So, is there any chance Minister of given the reality that you have recognized, what is the ability for the government to say these are not bastions for the elite, we have to change our thinking and say, these are gateways to growth. And how do we get central governments to fund cities?
A: It’s not that I am a storyteller, but I will tell a little story associated with this which will answer your question. You remember Dr Sumantra Ghoshal – ’99 I had given this paper to Mr Vajpayee. It was June 1999. And at the turn of the millennium, from 28 December to 3rd Jan, Professor Nitin Noria booked that entire journey, one of the train journey, which goes from Delhi to Jaipur, Udaipur, all over Rajasthan and I think it also went to Sabarmati, Ahmedabad and Somnath. So, there were two trains in those days, this one was Gujarat and Rajasthan, the 7-day journey.
So we spent 7 days with only professors of colleges and schools in Europe and America, Nitin had invited all his colleague professors. Sumatra Ghoshal was one of them. I was probably the only non-professor family there, Nitin’s parents and Geeta was there. During that journey, I articulated this paper which I had given to Mr Vajpayee and the concept of SEZ in the Indian context and the need and what I was thinking. Just about one day before the journey got wound up; Sumantra, Nitin and I were sitting. And Sumantra said, ‘Piyush, remember one thing in your life. If you want to make this programme a success, keep the government out of it. The more and more you try and get the government to do this programme and run this, it’s going to be a disaster.’
Q: The only thing is, give us your money; you can stay out of it! Now, jokes apart, I learnt something, so I was just wondering that how do governments fund this and what is the logic they do.
A: It will only lead to scandals, create problems on the ground, court cases, right starting from the land acquisition – what land acquisition the private sector can do privately and directly, mutually, the government cannot do.
A: It will be competing demands on government resources, which are always scarce in a developing country like India. So, frankly, that will be a non-starter, if we expect that the government starts with creating the infrastructure for a new city. In my humble opinion, and which was a part of, it was just one and a half page, it’s on my website, I will mail it to you today. What I had suggested in that was the government allows the planning authority to be independent, to be run by the local person who is setting up that special zone. And that planning authority then imposes a nominal or a moderate tax, which would be more efficiently collected and spent locally, rather than government collecting the taxes and giving it back to you.
And, usually these things run best when there is an anchor and no better example than Jamshedpur for all of us. Jamshedpur had the anchor of a steel plant, and from there the city developed. And I am told it’s a beautiful city even now, very well managed, very well organised, taxes are low, facilities are good for the residents of Jamshedpur. I wouldn’t know what’s the latest situation, maybe one of these days you and I can go there and have a look at it.
Q: Jamshedpur is extremely beautiful, the water there is treated and anyone has a water purifier at their homes. But the other dichotomy is you just get out of Jamshedpur, so the station is not managed by…!
A: I will hand it over to Tatas tomorrow. That’s a sad reflection. I am sorry ladies and gentlemen, but this is a sad reflection that if Tatas has such a large … no comment on any individual company, but I will say Mahindras. If Mahindra has such a large presence near some place, he should be suo moto be thinking in terms of developing that station, beautifying it, making it run well, look well, all of that.
Q: But it’s really a benchmark city, we agree.
A: Yeah, but by the way, I am taking up all these stations for redevelopment.
Q: In fact, I would just like to tell you Minister Sir, the train station at Mahindra World City Chennai we took an initiative and we went to the railways. And we maintain it and renovate it.
A: So, that’s the answer.
Q: Because that’s a gateway to my city, 30,000 people every day commute through that ….
A: I have been to Mahindra City, it was beautiful.
Q: And going back to my beginning, because when you close it all together, it’s nice to have a 360 view on the subject. You all spoke about your personal vision. Now, as institutional leaders, I would propose this question to Minister Sir and to you, what would you do to make a city in India or an urban centre in India which can become a benchmark for the developing countries of the world tomorrow. What would you do?
A: You know, of late, while one would have so many plans, the honourable Prime Minister had asked me to look at Banaras and some of its pressing issues. So, I had an occasion to spend some time there and make a few visits. Banaras is the oldest living city in the world today, more than 5000 years old. I am given to understand that there is no living city today, vibrant living, 1.3 million people city, which is as old as Banaras. It has a lot of significance to many-many people.
Now, when I was looking at Banaras, the beginning it looks like there is no hope, you can’t do anything in that city. The muck all around, it was unbelievable. One of our most holy cities where many of us here would have a lot of religious connect, a city where at one point of time, maybe even now many people believe that they would like to die in that city, that’s how it had become positioned.
A city which is in a way the most cosmopolitan city in the country, it has people from every state in the country. So the Dharamshalas, the places of worship there address every, literally, every corner of the country. And one of the first and biggest challenges there was garbage, and in the Swacchta rankings, and now we have an independent, I think Adil Zainul Bhai – QCI run a quality ranking of cleanliness. Banaras was about 430 or thereabouts. 430 in a ranking of, maybe, 500 cities! And we kept struggling, we tried door-to-door collection of garbage. We tried so many things. The needle just wouldn’t move.
But then when we did the root cause analysis of why this is not making any difference, and why is the garbage still ultimately, end of the day, either coming on the street or into the Ganga, into the Ganges. We realised that six years ago, a waste processing plant was set up. There are two landfills, one is totally full, so if you try to put anymore trucks there, the local villagers will burn that truck. The second landfill had a waste processing plant, which never started. It’s all set up there. It had 200 vehicles, with no tyres, with nothing, no machine, just shells. Not Mahindra’s.
Just lying there, because they never ran for a single day, maybe just purchased. And, in a way, it reflected the apathy of government that they had a fight with the contractor, never did anything and just everything left half-built. I sent the NTPC officials to go there. Of course, at the first instance, they were aghast. They said it’s not our job. What are we going to do in a waste-processing plant? I said this is not your job, but this is national duty, right?
We are trying to see what could solve a problem. In 3 months, power engineers who have nothing to do with that kind of machinery, but basically engineering skills, they got that whole plant up and above. And we started moving the garbage to the processing plant and would make compost out of it. I personally visited many times, and I tell you it’s a nightmare to visit a place like this. It’s not easy.
And lo and behold, we started processing 650 tonnes of garbage every day at that plant, and the impact it had on the city of Banaras is that its Swacchta Ranking is now in the top 40 or so. From 400 something to the top 40! Still not the best of cities, it’s of course a relative ranking. But I am just trying to show that if we sit down and apply our mind to what can be done, you can transform any city, any urban space.
I am in dialogue with some very eminent architects who are helping me redesign the stations, and I tell you, we were always looking at stations, railway stations in silos, one station and then the next. An architect came up with a design the other day, which is to die for. I saw you had one of the sessions connecting the dots. He just connected the dots and connected the stations on a Google map in the city of Mumbai and he came and gave me a presentation, including a walk-through, which 30 young architects in his office, all youngsters, all with different types of beards, each one had a different beard than the other. You know, like the types you see in FTII.
I mean young guys, very-very nice. It was nice to see each one. I actually got into a discussion about why they all had these different, and why one of them was clean shaven. But that’s argument we have it through all the time how to persuade him to get his…. But believe me, by connecting all those stations and making them one design for all the stations, he’s given such a transformational idea that we could actually change the look and feel of Mumbai with that one idea, I think so. I will unveil at an opportune moment. But believe me, there is talent in India which is to die for. We just need to give them a chance to flourish to explore and come out.
Q: The conversation was exhilarating, so I think we as usual ran out of time. When you have conversations which are so compelling, but the audience here with baited breath, and I must thank the audience who have been waiting patiently. So, we would open the audience. Five questions, please be specific.. and name yourself.
Sheila is our architect friend. She has done a lot of work for Mahindra World City Chennai also.
A: We are looking for architects in the railways. I hope if there are more architects in this room, please register, we are really looking for good architects.
Q: I was really happy about Anand Mahindra’s as well as the Minister’s thing, but what occurred to me was that all of us when we think of our cities and when we think of our own city to own and to have a soul as she said, I think there is a certain scale to which a city can be. But, unfortunately, what is happening now is the Delhi has become the NCR region, and Chennai is following suit to make it bigger. And there is this ever-expanding scope for a city; it cannot go on like that.
For planners and designers, I speak for my fraternity; you have to have an area for which you can design. It cannot be unending. It cannot be an imponderable. So, as far as technology goes, scalability is very easy and you know, bringing places together and cutting short distances is very easy. But, at what cost? I think we will lose that comfort of around your campfire that you said, and the comfort that the Minister said, and the identity. So, coming from India, and coming from such a diverse culture, I think it is very important for us to redefine what we think is the size, optimum size of a city – first, and go really very strictly on that to see that maybe a region could be multiple cities. Because I cannot think, for example, in Bombay, people in Colaba cannot relate with people in Ghatkopar. They don’t have the same, they don’t own it the same way, they don’t feel for it the same way. So, I think at this forum I would dare to ask the Minister to please look at this and say that there has to be a certain size..?
A: We are a democracy madam, this will not really run. This will not work.
Q: No, you could have modules.
A: These are modules, you assume. I remember, I grew up in a place in Mumbai, it’s called Sion. The real name is ‘behind Sheev’, the place is ‘Sheev’ and that’s the end of the city limit. So, at that point of time the city ended there, those 7 islands and whatever else. And I am not talking that old, I am not that old also, right? So the city was technically ending there, but then it grows. And a city is bound to grow and grow up further. So, now we have a Mumbai-Pune corridor, which is going to be one city, I promise you that. Delhi-Gurgaon is now one city, and going further and further, today Manesar. I don’t know where else it will go.
This is nature, and in a democracy people are going to come, land values will increase in a particular place, people will move out and then land values will fall, which is happening in South Mumbai today. Today, Nariman Point has collapsed, and BKC is becoming a new centre. Who knows a few years later, Thane may become a new centre, Borivali already has very high prices if you know Mumbai. And the same, you pay an arm and a leg to get a place in DLF in Gurgaon, probably far more than many parts of Delhi, Gurugram rather.
So, I think this is natural evolution. A good planner has to keep pace with time. I mean, sitting in government, I cannot say, look, I cannot plan for more than 1.25 billion population. Somebody tried to do that, we saw what happened.
Q: Sir, I am Ashok Goyal. Today, Minister said that 11 million housing shortage is there in the country, and in the next five years he intends to get rid of this shortage. It means that 2.2 million houses we have to build everywhere, but I don’t see any seriousness from the government to build 2.2 million houses everywhere. Could you please elaborate; can we have the help of the private sector like Mr Mahindra…?
A: But government doesn’t plan to build these houses at all, you are under a mistaken impression Sir. The government can only play the role of a facilitator. Towards that end, we have two responsibilities – one, to help people get finance, for which at least for the affordable housing category, for a loan up to 6 lakh rupees, and most of India and most of Indians would be looking at that level of loan – we give a 6.5% interest subvention, interest subsidy for a 15 or 20-year loan. I think nowhere in the world is any government giving that kind of an interest subvention for a small house, for a poor person or a lower middle-class person.
For a house which is slightly larger with a loan component up to 9 lakhs, we give a 4% interest subvention for a similar 15-20 year loan, and a house where the loan is up to 12 lakhs, at 3%. So, broadly about Rs 36,000 annually in the first year, and then reducing balance, we are giving as an interest subvention to encourage people to own their home.
As we walked in, I was telling ma’m that I have a plan that in the next 12 months, I want to encourage 1.3 million railway workmen, and 3,50,000 coal workmen that work for me, directly, forget all the other contractual workers, own their own house. And when I shared this with the union leaders, they were exhilarated. They said nobody in 70 years has thought about it. I said, I will not give you a single rupee. I will not make the homes. I will not tell you go and buy from Mahindra or from somebody else, but my officers can play the role of a catalyst, can help you see that the legal documents are right, the RERA registration is okay, the bank loan is at a good price. I can negotiate with a bank maybe and get a half percent less on the basic interest, plus 6.5 or 4%. So, we can play the role of a catalyst.
And the second thing we can do, which is really in the domain of states, but under the ease of doing business we are working with the states and that’s why we have set up competition amongst cities and states to make it easier to get approvals. So, this is the two things we can do. End of the day, we believe a privately run programme on affordable housing for all will be far more successful than a government-initiated one where the houses would have leaking taps or bad quality construction. Why do you want to go down that path at all? And then irregularities in allotment. You have every way to go wrong.
Q: My question is to Mr Minister, my name is Hari Hegde and I work for Wipro. These are ballpark numbers. Going by 2011 census, it’s about 300 odd urban people living in India, and if you go down the most popular cities, 10 cities make for 30% of Indian urban population – 10 cities, I am sure of that number. So it’s about fixing those 10 cities, if you do that you have fixed about 30% of Indian urban issues. Now, the gentleman from McKensey, he was referring to 3 things. So, I am going to go back to it, if you would permit. He was referring to not building new cities, he was referring to funding of existing large cities, and the rationale was that about 65% of the GDP comes from there, 95% of tax collection comes from there, but the allocation to cities is not adequate – point 1. Second – the governance of those cities, take for example Bangalore, the Mayor has a tenure of one year, what can he do in that one year? So, will we fix the mayoral system, which is a political question, because if you are going to have a strong mayor and a mayoral system you have another power structure coming up in the city. And I am being candid about it. The third bit is you talked of yes, the resource allocation can happen, but the citizens must plan where it gets utilized. If you go into how municipalities are structured, by structure, you have the metropolitan planning committee, which is actually citizen participated. So, you have all the structure, but it’s not functioning. How do you plan to fix it?
A: First of all, I hope everybody in this room appreciates that this warped logic, which we hear very-very often, and I hope McKinsey doesn’t subscribe to that Sir, that if a city gives 90% of revenue, or even 65%, then it’s entitled to get 65% of that revenue back. I mean, I am just saying that this I hear very often that our city gives so much, so we should get more revenue. This is ridiculous. There is a nation of a billion-plus people. There is need for resources, particularly, to meet the needs of the poor, the marginalized sections of societies, those who live in areas or who have not got the opportunity to board the train, like many of us have.
So, I personally don’t look at a tax that I pay as some favour I am doing to this system. I get more from the country than what I pay as taxes, or any of us pays as taxes. And really, when we evade taxes also, one must keep in mind that we may be snatching a LPG connection from a poor, or quality healthcare for a poor person in a village, forcing somebody to carry his mother on his back for 15-20 kilometres to reach nearest healthcare.
So, I think first of all the fact that tax collection and from where it comes and where it’s deployed, I don’t see a direct correlation. City taxes, of course, are used in the city, so Mumbai Corporation collects its taxes; it uses it in the city. Second – cities are working to solve their problems, albeit differently. So, we have a city like, we have a Chief Minister in Maharashtra, Devendra Fadnavis, who is really proactively working to set the transport system right, who is working to create a web of metros, a web of roads, who is finally got trans harbour link going, who is getting the airport started, and the honourable Prime Minister will be doing the honours on the 18th to get the new airport started in Navi Mumbai.
He is working to see can we get one terminal building in one runway up and about in 2 years, never before kind of targets. You know, 50% of India’s infrastructure spending today is happening in Maharashtra, as per a Deutsche Bank report.
So, things are happening. Now, each city is working differently. I don’t want to give a political hue to it, but if you come from Bangalore, the people elected a particular party, gave them the maximum number of seats. But two other parties decided to get together and keep them out of government, and took over the role of the mayor and the city government in Bangalore. And then we are seeing what’s happening in Bangalore, day in and day out.
And it was left to us then to provide a suburban network there and provide the facilities to unclog the roads of Bangalore, because it’s really becoming unlivable, two hours to go from one place to the other in Bangalore. So, to my mind, things are happening. Instead of being cynical, which I think over a period of time all of us have learned to become very well, we will all need to participate, we will all need to be conscious, we will all need to raise our voice. And raise our voice, again not in cynical fashion, so we have a page in a newspaper which will only talk about the potholes on the road.
But why don’t we also start engaging with what’s happening when the work is happening, why don’t we all start also seeing some good stories. Very often good stories encourage more people to be involved in the process, good stories help us learn what can be done better. So, I think it’s time that we as a nation, particularly, those of us in the Oberoi today, and I believe we are a privileged set of society in this country, start getting more concerned, rather than all the time cribbing about what’s happening. No offense meant to you sir personally.
Q: We are deeply engaged. I was not being cynical. As a matter of fact, like Jamshedpur, electronic city is an autonomous independent township. It’s one of its kind. It’s an urban local body, and I cheer that urban local body. So, there’s so much of time beyond my day job…
A: And it’s a new city, by the way. It was not there 20 year ago. So, in a way, we need to have these satellite cities coming up. We need to have satellite towns. You can’t wish away urbanisation. You will all have to be involved to see how it can be done better. Tell me, in this room I am willing to challenge how many people are concerned or have taken adequate care or made sure that their domestic help has a house of their own. With all these facilities that we are giving – loans, subsidies, this, that – how many of us have bothered to educate our domestic help that you can own a house at a very nominal cost? How many of us bother to pay minimum wages to our domestic help, to our drivers? How many of us have bothered to open a provident fund account for them, or given them a mediclaim facility, they are now eligible for ESIC, which is so cheap – Employees State Insurance Corporation.
Do any of us care to bother about all of that? I suspect not. Some of us must be, I am not castigating, I am not a cynical guy, but I believe that we can have much more good Samaritans amongst all of us.
Q: Hello sir, I am Rishabh Disani, I am a management student from MDI Gurgaon. My question is directed to Piyush Sir here, Sir does autonomous mobility in terms of public transport send people into unemployment and if indeed the government is sincere about following that path, doesn’t it lead to a bigger problem?
A: Carlo and I had this conversation in Davos, and very clearly, as I said earlier on in earlier part of the discussion, every country will have to adopt to what is most essential for that country and in the context of that country’s situation. So, really India doesn’t need driverless cars, and we discussed that at length over there, in Davos. And, on another occasion also, on two occasions, one was in our session and there was another session on mobility that, I don’t know KPMG or PWC or somebody had put together, Deloitte or somebody, where we had Siemens and many companies participating where we also came to the conclusion that we really need to develop our programme for public transport, for mobility, for engaging with technology, for absorption of newer ideas and newer ways of working related to the Indian context.
But at the same time, so driverless cars is really a no-no, frankly, for India. And I don’t know if that driverless car will be able to factor in a sudden guy jumping and running on the street, I have my doubts about that. Having said that, I was one of those who actually in one such engagement, you know, electric vehicles, Anand I don’t know if you are aware, the story didn’t start out of any great public consultations or any research paper from Mahindra’s or anybody else. We were at Over Drive Awards, I was giving away awards and then, I mean we have to give these speeches and I don’t come with texts. So I keep roving thoughts on the podium, and I just articulated, I said I frankly dream of the day, and I was Power Minister. I was trying to find a market for power, we were a power-surplus nation now, finally 70 years after independence we finally become power-surplus.
So, I was looking for a market really, I had a vested interest in that, indirectly. But I was just back from Paris, after the Paris negotiation, or maybe it was just before that, one of the two. And I just rovingly said that I dream of a day that by 2030, every car sold in India is an electric vehicle. And can we not take a leadership position, do we always have to wait for the world to progress and then India will copy and follow suit many years later.
Thank you. I think again as I said, there are many more questions, but we have run out of time. When you have such an engaging discussion, when you do a compelling conversation and when you have people who are not only visionaries, but have the intent and the power of actioning, this is what happens. We run out of time. But when then we learn some and we realize there is so much to take away and move on. So, thank you again once more, it was really personally very-very motivating for me. So, on to many more cities, and on to a better future.
February 15, 2018 Speaking at 8th PetroCoal Congress, in New Delhi