…also a colleague chartered accountant, additional secretary in the department of economic affairs, Ministry of Finance, somebody who was very closely involved in the remonetisation exercise, post November 16, and all the outstanding officials who chose to lead the railways and join the IAS. He started his career in the accounts department of the Indian railways, but got better openings in life, became a Indian Administrative Service official and has really distinguished career behind him in the government of India.
Shri SK Patnaik, Managing Director of IRFC – the reason why we are all her – my good friend Ashish Chouhan, while I have done a lot of programmes with Ashish, I have shared many-many daises with him. But one thing that I have done I think more often than one should is do the bull run of the BSE in (Inaudible). Next is tomorrow morning, only this time you have moved from here to Bandra (Inaudible). He has the ability to make people get up early morning and run.
Mr Ajay Pandey who is working very hard to get the Gift City more traction, get it accepted as India’s face to the international world of finance, and today for that matter is a very important day, both for the Exchange and for Gift City that the first bond listing and, particularly, a prestigious listing of the IRFC which is probably one of the few organisations/PSUs which got re-rated by Moody’s along with the sovereign upgrade recently. So, truly a momentous day for all of us and I congratulate each one of you gentlemen for making this happen.
Ralph Emerson had once said, ‘Do not go where the path may lead, go instead on the unbeaten journey where there is no path.’ And in that sense, it’s good to see IRFC taking this lead and embarking on a new journey with Gift City and with the new Exchange.
I have a number of senior colleagues with the railways, generals managers both of the western and central railway, other distinguished guests who have come in here, who have waited for me here, my apologies for not being able to make it on time. Of course, I can assure you the interest will be paid on time, serviced on time. But be as it is, the fog in Delhi is completely messing up all schedules, I wake up every morning to read the newspaper to make sure there are more flights that get delayed than the trains, just so that I am on the right side of the system. But then the rest of the day does get affected, so I am really very sorry to have made you wait for starting the programme.
But the one that I had before this was a very interesting programme. I may speak a little more about it in my next engagement after this, but I will just give you a flavour. I don’t know, is there a different audience coming or is it the same audience? It’s a different audience! But I must give you a flavour of the meeting from which I have just come in here. It’s totally unrelated to your world, but I wish each one of you can relate to the meeting that I have just come from.
We are all aware that over the years, somehow we have evolved into a ecosystem where people are making an effort to remain below the poverty line so that they can get some benefit. And over the years, I am finding that very often people even don’t give the accurate data so that they don’t lose their SECC recognition as a Below Poverty Line family. It’s a very sad situation that we have got ourselves (inaudible) into that it’s becoming a nation of underperformers and underachievers in the hope that we remain below poverty line and we can keep getting benefits. And that has resulted in large parts of the nation, the so-called backward districts, where development is not really taking shape and they are getting worse off year on year.
And in some sense, the great India development story is getting affected by these areas which are actually underperforming. So you have an economy which is looking at aspiring to be a double-digit growth economy, but is getting pulled down by these districts where our focus is not there. They do have certain programmes dedicated to backward areas, but I don’t know the last time when any of us in this room, including the government officials, have really had a focused outcome-oriented programme to get them out of that hut.
Honourable Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi recognised this as a serious crisis (inaudible), the fact that these areas are actually going down as we see the rest of the nation go up. And he has identified 115 such districts which we do not call backward anymore but which are now aspiring to get out of backwardness and, therefore, are the aspirational districts of India. And I was doing the review of the four such aspirational districts in Maharashtra with the collectors and the other officials from those four districts, and with each of these districts a senior official of the central government, not lower than the rank of Joint Secretary, has been linked up and we Ministers from each state have been made directly responsible for the outcomes that we hope to get and to get these districts out of the very-very abysmally low indicators, human development indicators and help the people of these areas reach their true potential, meet their aspirations.
And, therefore, that meeting was so engrossing that much as, I think Ashish was on the phone repeatedly trying to push me out of that meeting, I truly could not have left that meeting without understanding, and it was my first engagement with that team and trying to set some path forward how we are going to achieve some breakthrough results in this.
And, honestly, on this auspicious day, because today is Lohri, on the eve of Makar Sankranti tomorrow. Lohri, of course, also signifies on the one hand the end of winter, so hopefully less delays and less fog going forward, but it’s also symbolic – you know we in Lohri, somebody, Punjabis here or those who would know about it – there is a huge bonfire and we put all the muck into that bonfire, in some sense, symbolizing change, symbolizing new beginnings. In Gujarat, where Pandeyji comes from this is called Uttarayan and the direction changes and we say that after Makar Sankranti, you have good days coming for each one of us.
And in some sense, it’s very appropriate that we are having this programme today, this listing today, because the tide hopefully will change from tomorrow and we move into a new beginning, both for the Gift City, for IRFC and this Exchange, which is doing the first listing today, and hopefully, for these aspirational districts across the country whose destiny we are trying to better, change, improve and bring them into the national mainstream as is their rightful place.
Of course, the IRFC is playing a very important role in the activities of the Indian railways. It’s one of the major financing arms which helps us to bring in all the investment required for Indian railways, and I am sure each one of you will be happy to know the quantum jump that the capital investment programme of the Indian railways has seen in the last 3 or 4 years. I was recently reviewing our budget preparations for next year and I realized that in the year 2013-14, the Indian railways had a capex programme of about 53,000 crores for the whole year. In fact, the average from 2009 to ’14 was somewhere around 45 or 46,000 crore rupees average of five years.
From 53,000 crores in 2013-14 – I, of course, cannot disclose the programme for 2018-19 over here – but in the current year 2017-18, which is only the fourth year of this government that 53,000 crores has taken a quantum leap to 1,30,000 crore-plus. That has been the changing dimension of investments in infrastructure that this government has focused on.
We are all aware of the famous American dialogue, or statement or question whether ‘the Highways made America or America made the highways.’ And I think in the Indian context, if we can set our highways, our roadways, our seaways, our airways right and truly connect India, a task which Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee started in NDA-1 and brought in the concept of the Golden Quadrilateral, brought in the true development agenda on ports, sea ports, introduce the concept of privatisation of airports. I think that task, that unfinished agenda of Prime Minister Vajpayee, Prime Minister Modi has taken a quantum leap in making that agenda happen in almost sector after sector.
You heard recently the investment plans on Bharat Mala on the connectivity through the grid of national highways, the plans that Mr Nitin Gadkari has drawn up, another Maharashtra leader. The aggressive Sagar Mala project, again that Mr Nitin Gadkari is working on to connect all the ports with the rest of the hinterland and expand capacities, so we can decongest our port network. The work we are doing through Bharat Net to connect India through a wide network of optic fibre cable and telecom facilities.
UDAN, which is trying to bring regional connectivity to smaller towns across the country, the first phase 50, but the objective is to go up to probably 475 or 500 smaller towns, converting small air strips into operating commercial airports. And in a small humble way, the Indian railways introducing safer, cleaner, more passenger-friendly and goods compatible rate systems in the country to truly serve the country to bring back that charm that Indian railways always had. At least, I had that charm when I was a young kid travelling in the Rajdhani, those days we used to go chair car.
I think now we have sleepers and all in the Rajdhani. But I still remember spending many-many journeys, particularly, Mumbai to Delhi on the Rajdhani chair car, looking forward to – I am a vegetarian – so cutlets and toast, which always used to be very pleasurable on the railways. It’s that old charm that we wish to bring back into the Indian railways, and all of that is going to require huge amounts of investments.
My predecessor Mr Prabhu had really done some wonderful work in the railways which I am only taking forward. He had drawn up a grand vision, an investment plan of 8,56,000 crores for the railways, of which in the first 4 years alone, we have been able to nearly go up to about 3,93,000 crores. And I think come 2022, as India moves into the New India, the New India of Prime Minister Modi’s dreams, I do hope to see a New Indian railway evolving to serve the needs of passengers, to serve the requirements of business, cargo, to serve the needs of the poorest of the poor who still looks up to the Indian railways to connect him to the rest of the country, to take him from the cities to his village and the other way round, which takes him to his marriage, which brings him to his religious town.
And all those journeys which each one of us in different ways often have to undertake and I think the richest of rich persons, of course, save and except, those who travel only in their private jets which is a very-very-very minuscule population, I think all of us use the railways in some form or the other. I have been using it consistently year on year, for many-many years, for all my pilgrimages.
And I am happy that my first journey as Railway Minister was to Shri Mahavirji, a jain temple town where I go every year for now 30 odd years. Of course, I did it as a surprise journey and it was very educative to see the job of the ticket collector, to see the cleanliness of the train, to see what we need to do to improve the service. I remember that small cup in which he got the tea, it was just this small, smaller than the Bombay ki cutting chai.
And I still remember the good old days when he will have thermos we would get a whole lot of hot water and tea bag and milk being served alongside. We want to get back that charm into the Indian railways, and I am sure the wonderful work that IRFC is doing to support that effort, be it to bring in safety into railways, be it to expand capacity to serve the remote corners. Today these 4 aspirational districts – Nandurbar, Varshen Gadchiroli, Osmanabad, I think one of the pressing needs brought out was rail connectivity, because that’s the poor man’s connectivity, more than anything else.
So, I am sure all these efforts that are going into the railway network, railway system will help make Indian railways – and I think that’s the topic of my next engagement – really drive the Indian economy. Of course, in this bull market that all of you are experiencing, I don’t know if anymore bull work is required. But there is a lot to be done. There is a lot on the agenda.
I was here yesterday also in Mumbai for a few hours in the afternoon to meet the honourable Chief Minister. We have discussed and drawn up very elaborate programme for upgrading the Mumbai Suburban network, very-very significant investment plan that we have drawn up.
And I am quite sure that going forward, the Indian railways is going to really show some significant action on the ground which will make each one of you Indians proud, which will make each one of you maybe live back your memories of when you had your first train journey, which I hope will excite some of you to consider travelling by train often on, and which I hope will decongest the streets of Mumbai and allow you to travel by air-condition trains, the first of which we have introduced, but we have plans to do many more, and come to work instead of in your sedans. And even those sedans I hope will be electric-driven going forward.
But I do hope each one of you will find it more enjoyable to come to office in a comfortable journey in an air-conditioned suburban train, rather than clogging the roads of Mumbai, and taking hours to reach your destination. I have no doubt in my mind that each Mumbaikar has some connect with the Indian railways and that connect will forever drive each one of us to give good suggestions, to participate in this journey. Because I know that if you believe in us, we will be able to do a much better job in revitalizing the Indian railway to become that service provider that serves today 8 million passengers in Mumbai, but we hope will serve every citizen of Mumbai, every resident of Mumbai in some form or the other on some important day maybe you want to catch a flight and prefer to take a train to the airport, maybe you may want to attend a function in Navi Mumbai or Borivali and will choose to rather go by train than by car.
Maybe some of you may want to catch up on reading and may prefer to take a bullet train to Ahmedabad rather than a flight, and maybe some of you with a confirmed air reservation will choose that you rather not spend time going to the airport, checking in, waiting for your flight to take off, circling in the air as I did for about 45 minutes today, reaching a destination, waiting for your luggage and all these airports being located where they are you may just like to hop on to a train at Church Gate or VT, go up to Bandra, hop on to the bullet train and reach Ahmedabad, faster than the air journey. That’s the day we visualize, not only from Mumbai to Ahmedabad, but a network of high speed trains, a network of dedicated freight corridors, which will serve the nation, connect the nation, transform the future of India.
I seek your support in these endeavours, and I assure you this country is working to leave behind a better future for the next generation, and each one of us has an equal stake in ensuring that our children of tomorrow are left behind a better legacy than possibly the one we inherited.
Thank you very much.
January 8, 2018 Speaking at Atmiya Yuva Mahotsav, in Ahmedabad