India’s energy dialogue with the US, Japan and Australia aims to build upon the groundwork prepared by Narendra Modi for providing 24X7 affordable electricity, coal, power and renewable energy minister Piyush Goyal tells TOI as he trawls the world for fuels, funding and technology. Excerpts:
What are you putting on the table for overseas investors?
Trust. Prime Minister Modi has been able to lay the foundation of trust in India. These countries and their business communities impart a huge amount of value to whether they can trust the leadership of the day, whether they can trust the nation where they are going to put their money, their investments; whether they can work in an environment which is investor-friendly and honest, where they will not be discriminated against when competing with other countries or where they will not have to have extraneous considerations while taking business decisions. This huge change in the leadership and its style of working can best be captured in the word ‘trust’. And to my mind, it’s this trust which has been the game-changer in the level of engagement that investors, particularly from Europe, Japan, the US and now from Australia are looking to benefit from.
What is the philosophy driving India’s energy engagement with foreign governments?
Each of the three countries has important offerings. Each has several strengths. The US could be a source of large amounts of capital, Japan most successful technology and innovation, Australia fuel sources — coal, gas; and within that clean coal; and again within that, coal-to-gas technology. So each country has one unique and most defining feature but around that there are several elements of engagement.
We will try and look at how we will get the best in class of each country to further India’s interests, to provide 24X7 affordable energy access to our people. But, we do’t have to depend on one engagement or one country or one technology. We want the best of what we offer our people, the best from around the world. We are shopping around for who gives us the best investment terms, who gives us the best technology, who is willing to come and make in India so we provide jobs to our people; who is willing to engage with us to help us keep our power cost the lowest. India is open to business, India wants to actively expand in this area, but on terms which are favourable to India, on terms which serve our people the best. Our job is to ensure that India’s interests are protected, India’s interests are furthered, India’s interest always remain paramount in all the work that each one of us is doing.
What differentiates the Modi government’s energy policy planning?
The very fact that PM Modi, when he was chief minister of Gujarat, was able to turn around an ailing sector. A sector which was inefficient, inapt in its working; lethargic, making losses as high as Rs 2,500 crore per year 15 years ago, not able to serve its customers with quality power, timely power. At that point of time, Gujarat had the costliest power. In a short span of 3-4 years, then CM Modi was able to turn around these loss-making utilities. He was able to provide power for all his citizens 24X7.
He was able to give his farmers adequate power so their productivity increased. Industry was assured of power so he got investments into the state and created jobs and a situation arose in all of Gujarat that there was no unemployment. Now in that situation, he realises the importance of power in the development of the nation and people’s lives.
When he took charge of the government at the Centre, he focused on a 360-degree comprehensive planning, with the single objective of serving the people with 24X7 power, making India power surplus so more and more investments and jobs can be created.
But he is very conscious of the environment as he says very often that he wants ‘zero-defect, zero-effect’ development. Sustainable development is at the core of his agenda. So he also ensures that there is energy security and energy sustainability when we do energy planning. In that sense, he focused his energy first to create a robust plan, prioritise what are the issues that are causing this problem in the country.
He did a root-cause analysis to understand the things we need to set right. He made sure that we do’t allow power prices to go up indiscriminately but keep prices low, particularly because he recognises that the poor do not have the ability to spend very large sums on power.
He focused his energy on renewable energy because that not only provides energy security and gives you many years of fixed-price power but is also something totally in our control. We are not dependent on any foreign country.
So this kind of a holistic framework and plan to reach power to every home at affordable prices has been drawn up under his visionary leadership. We learnt a lot from his success in Gujarat. We continue to learn from different experiments in all the states where we have been able to do some innovation or the other, and through the partnership of Team India, through the partnership of all stakeholders, be it coal companies, power companies, state governments, be it local bodies, discoms, bankers — everybody together is working to make this dream a reality.
India’s geographical location could make it an ideal energy trading hub for a vast market, that could potentially stretch from Iran to Myanmar or even southeast Asia. We have limited power trade with Bhutan, Bangladesh and Nepal. When do we see a policy framework for free flow of energy across borders, at least in the Saarc region to begin with?
There cannot be a one-size-fits-all policy for cross-border trading. This has to be calibrated according to our engagement with each country, based on the geopolitical situation, diplomatic relations. Power trading can become one element of our engagement with neighbours. We are very excited about exchanging the energy trade with all neighbours, particularly the Saarc countries.
We are open to all ideas because we have surplus power in the country today and can easily serve the needs of our neighbours. At the same time we are investing heavily in our neighbouring countries who can provide hydro power to serve our interests, particularly in the eastern parts of India.
It is again going to be part of our diplomatic initiatives, as well as economic interests of both countries, to expand this trade. It will happen by and by and as each country and the government of India come to terms and (which) will vary from country to country.