October 11, 2017

Speaking at 12th International Railway Equipment Exhibition (IREE) 2017, in New Delhi

…Engagement between Japan and India in the last 3 years, and I would like to thank you your Excellency for all your support and commitment to bringing the best of technologies and the best of Japanese excellence into India. Mr Rajiv Jyoti, the Chairman of CII Taskforce on Railways, and Chief Executive of L&T’s railway unit, thank you for organising this very important Conference. The very fact that the exhibitors index is so big reflects on the effort that must have gone in, and I think you wanted to give us a flavour of that by really packing that book up so tightly.

My colleagues, Mr Ravindra Gupta, Mr Ghanshyam Singh, Mr Mohapatra, Mr AK Goyal; all of them having dedicated their lives, worked nearly 4 decades to serve the nation, serve Indian Railways. Mr Pavel Krtek, the Chairman of the board of Directors and CEO of the Czech Railways; Mr Tilak Raj Seth, Mr CP Sharma, Mr Anand Chidambaram, friends from the media, distinguished ladies and gentlemen.

When Mr Sharma was welcoming me, he mentioned about the industry encouraged with my presence today. I was actually thinking, in his mind, he wanted to say ‘by your late presence today.’ But I would only like to apologize, I did get late, but I feel like I have gone back to school after trying to understand the Power and Renewable Energy industry, which was itself very new for me. And, I remember when I used to read late into the night to try and understand what we need to do, what can be done in the power sector, in the coal sector, later in the mining sector.

People used to wonder why I sit up so late in the night reading about new things. But in the last one month that I have been in the railways, I have realised this is not just going back to school. It’s even worse. It’s something like 40 years ago when I first read the ‘Exodus’ by Leon Uris, it was so engrossing that you didn’t know when time went by, and you would probably read into the wee hours of the morning. It was so gripping, or maybe an Ayn Rand ‘Fountainhead’ or something.

This is somewhat like that. Once you start reading about the history of the railways, the potential of Indian railways, the impact it has on the lives of the people of India, you lose track of time and then you don’t know whether you are up at 3 o’clock in the night or 4 o’clock in the night.

And, yesterday was one such day when I was reading, burning the midnight oil trying to learn, also unlearn, absorb various things about the railways, what can be done, what should be done, what must be done. Strategising, planning, and then working towards an implementation schedule that should be really geared up to meet the needs of the 21st century, the demands of an ever-aspiring and demanding passenger, who’s our consumer, who is the very reason of our being. Meet the demands of our customers who give us nearly a billion tonnes of freight, which is the very heart and soul, and essence of the revenue model of the railways, which helps us to keep the engines going, fuel the growth in the sector.

And in some sense, my one month’s learnings of the railways have really encouraged me that we can do a lot, we can change the mindset with which this sector has over decades been working and progressing also. In the last 3 years, we have seen a huge quantum jump in the investments in the railways, over twice the amount that used to be spent annually earlier. We have seen the number of accidents. We have seen the red-tapism reduce significantly. We have seen in the last 3 years a new direction that the railways is taking, particularly, with the launch of the high-speed train, also more popularly called as the bullet train, in collaboration with the Japanese.

And, in some sense, India is already too late in absorbing new technologies. It was in 1969 that the last high-speed or modern train was introduced in India – the Rajdhani. And, as I said earlier, I believe even at that time, there were a lot of adverse comments, there were many naysayers who commented adversely about the introduction of Rajdhani, way back in 1969.

And, we are nearly 50 years late in bringing newer technologies into the country, as his Excellency just said. It was in my year of birth, 1964, that the Shinkansen was introduced in Japan. And 50 years track record of zero accident, high-speed efficient trains; never late, you could set your watch with the arrival and departure of the Shinkansen trains.

And I must acknowledge that despite being late, now, having finally been able to, in the new changed mindset of the railways, introduced the high-speed trains in India, this nation your Excellency now is in a hurry to provide the most modern, the most comfortable, most efficient, and the best modes of transport for the common man, for the poor of India to enjoy, to serve the poor of India, so that they are not left to the destiny, they are not left to the age-old technologies for the future.

The children of today and the youth of tomorrow want India to engage with the best in the world. They want to bring to India most innovative, most modern technologies, and that is the India, the new India that we are trying to move towards. The new India where every citizen along with shelter, a toilet in his home, 24×7 electricity, good water, good health facilities, good education, also has good quality mobility, also can move from one end of India to the other in a rapid fashion, in an efficient fashion more comfortably, goods can move from one place to the other through dedicated freight corridors.

And, we ultimately aspire that just like in most modern rail systems around the world, freight and passengers should have different corridors, which will truly make Indian railways safe and more comfortable, and more profitable. And I cannot do that unless we have the participation of all the stakeholders, all the people who have exhibited in this exhibition, all the Indian and international companies who are working together to make this dream possible.

And I am sure the deliberations of this Conference, the new technologies that are exhibited in this exhibition will help us move forward to really bring in speed, to really bring in scale and safety in the working of the rail network. We have made certain efforts in the last one month to move the pace of things, some of it has already probably reached some of you, some of it you will experience in the days to come.

I must acknowledge the great support I am getting from the entire rail family, which comprises probably the largest family in this country, over nearly 1.3 million people directly working in the railways. I can’t even hazard a guess about how many other people are engaged in the entire ecosystem indirectly with the Indian Railways. But I must place on record and acknowledge the support that I have received right from the railway board down to the last man in the railway ecosystem, be it a person working on the tracks, be it a gangman, be it the suppliers from across the nation, and be it the support and encouragement and the feedback that I have been receiving from different stakeholders, consumers, customers.

In fact, some of the experiences I had already had as the Coal Minister, being the largest consumer of rail facilities, as we move probably nearly 40-45% of the freight that passes through the rail network. I had had a flavour of the issues before the railway system, and therefore, I think I am finding it a great opportunity to change the needle, to change the way things work, to change the mindset with which the railways has worked for so many years.

I am delighted that the railway board is now meeting once every week and disposing off all pending matters expeditiously. In fact, I have asked all the zones to immediately flag off to the railway board any pending decisions, so that we can close the loop on anything that has gone accumulated in terms of decision making. And at the same time, we have significantly enhanced the delegation of authority and powers down the line.

You might have read that for safety, for example, we have given unlimited powers to all the zonal general managers to take a decision and start implementing decisions, only keeping the railway board informed of what they are doing, and only in the rarest of rare case when we feel that something is really very wrong in a defined timeframe, can we disagree with that decision. The idea being that the people on the ground know best what needs to be done, what is urgent, what is of pressing importance and which cannot be delayed at all.

Similarly, something which will interest all the industry participants here, I am one of those who doesn’t believe in reinventing the wheel. It’s an unfortunate situation that we were not able to absorb the best of technologies in India with the speed with which we should have done it. It’s truly unfortunate that it takes months and years to approve anything in this system. And I have already requested the railway board to immediately list out everything that is pending before the RDSO and put it in public domain, and I do hope the railway board will give it in the public domain in a defined timeframe, which I would like you all to define quickly, every item that is pending before the RDSO for approval will be put up in public domain. And you will have the right to contest if you have anything else which is not there in that list, and in a defined timeframe we will be giving you a yes or no, and a no with reasons in writing why they are not accepting anything.

I don’t want to compromise safety, but I don’t think that can become an excuse for delays or taking too much time. So, I do hope the entire ecosystem of industry will also correspondingly speed up your development, and will speed up your activities. And I do hope the RDSO will come up to speed with the same enthusiasm that I want to see in the industry and start taking decisions in a defined timeframe with reasons recorded in writing and conveyed to the stakeholders.

And I think we have already started the process of getting all the development activities taken up on a mission mode. I would urge all of you to come up with new ideas, to give us your suggestions how we can change… I will give you a simple example, in the meeting I had in Mumbai about 10 days ago, I realised that the railways needs about 2500-3000 escalators, probably more. Now the current cost of an escalator in the railways is about 1 crore rupees.

Of course, once you prepare an estimate of 1 crore rupees, everybody knows you have to bid around that estimate, so everybody, even if the thing could be done in 17 lakhs knows you have a 1 crore rupees estimate, so let’s bid around that estimate. I have asked the railways to review their entire system of preparing estimates also. I think it brings in a lot of flab, it brings in a lot of delays, it factors in delays. You have a 5% cost added for inflation. Assuming that projects are going to take too long, we want to change the rules of the game now.

We want to do large scale procurement. We want industry to have visibility that you have business for the next two years, three years, and start gearing up your manufacturing capacity, your designing capacity. And, as you look at scale, my own sense is we can easily save 30 or 40% on most of the procurement that is going on right now, only by bringing in scale, efficiency, speed, timely payment. Mr Mohapatra is working on a system, by which we will guarantee payment on the 30th day for everything that is supplied to the Indian Railways.

Mr Goyal is here, stores has been instructed, they have to accept or reject, with reasons in writing, goods within seven days. Payments will go into the system, payments will be made as per date of supply, and nobody will have to come to the railways to get their payment. It will be dispatched by RTGS through the bank into your bank account. And anybody who doesn’t see this happening can flag it off directly to me, doesn’t even have to go to anybody else.

Mr Mohapatra, I hope you are working to make that system. We have a timeline on that also. I have found, when we were purchasing LED bulbs, I found the cost of LED bulbs reduced from Rs 310 to Rs 40 only by such elementary changes. What did we do that the cost reduced from 310 to 40? It’s not as if any new technologies were developed in the last one year or two years when this happened. It was scale of purchasing. It was guaranteed, timely payment, without coming to the office to get your payment. It was simplified, but very effective third party sampling and monitoring of quality, without inordinate delays in taking a decision. And, of course, it was corruption-free.

If any of you have any problems, please call me directly, SMS me, mail me, because that’s one thing that I want to see the maximum change in the way things work. And, I personally believe money is not a problem. There is no shortage of funds in the Indian railways, at all. That’s the first mindset change that we brought out in our thinking.

And I have asked the Railway board to look at the escalators; I am just taking that example forward, all across the country, bring out the entire escalator requirement, standardise the design. Why should every escalator design have to go through months and years of design specification and calculation? I think it’s the simplest thing to make an escalator. And then bid out 500 or 1000 escalators to be supplied over 2 years, 3 years, so that everybody knows that he has a pipeline to work on. He can work back-to-back and prepare himself to continuously supply the product.

Contractors who have to do the civil work know that they have, as they say in Hindi, चाल मिल जाये कांट्रेक्टर को, he doesn’t have to worry कि आज मैंने 100 लोग लिए पता नहीं 15 दिन बाद इनको छोड़ना पड़ेगा या रखना पड़ेगा| For the gentlemen, ladies who don’t understand English, they should have a continuity of engagement so that they don’t have the uncertainly now I employ 100 people, I don’t know after 20 days what happens to them, do they leave, do they continue? And all the associated irregularities in that.

It pained me in Mumbai when I saw the file, where a foot over bridge, which was approved but took months to finalize the design and prepare the documentation to tender it out. And it’s a wake-up call for all my colleagues in the railways.

We will have to bring speed into our system. We will have to bring in efficiency into the system. And, to bring in that efficiency, as the Prime Minister once said, technology is the catalyst that can magically transform what we are doing or the way we live. A simple thing like fog lights, which I wanted to introduce before this winter comes in. And I am told, we don’t have any fog light anywhere in the world that we can put onto our trains.

I would appeal to all of you, and we have the best of technological experts in this room or in this exhibition, can we quickly come up with some fog lights, which can help make the railways more secure in the foggy weather in the winter. I was told there was one company which has already brought in some project or some design, which I hope that we will quickly experiment with and see if it works.

But I would appeal to all of you, come up with new ideas, come up with safety ideas. We want to put in CCTVs across the rail network, every bogey, every station. Can you all in this room help us design a framework, and I don’t believe we have the best of knowledge on all of this. I think industry can help us design the framework, around which this can be done efficiently, fast, at the best price. And, moment I am bidding out for some 500,000 or 600,000 CCTV cameras, I think I can duplicate the LED model over here.

Ravindraji just spoke about expanding the rail coach manufacturing, I will tell you what I discussed with the general manager of the Raebareli factory. Of course, that factory has had a very chequered history; it was years in the making. It was only after Prime Minister Modi came in that we were able to actually bring in all the best of equipment and really make that a vibrant unit. But it even today has a capacity to do 1000 coaches in a year. I have requested the general manager to immediately work on what would be the balancing equipment to help us change the manufacturing capacity. And I mean it ladies and gentlemen when I say this, from 1000 to 5000 coaches every year.

And for those in industry, it doesn’t take rocket science to do it. All it needs is some balancing equipment, so that wherever the mismatch is there, we can enhance the 1000 to maybe 1500, to maybe 1400. It may need one or two more lines to expand it to maybe 2000, and lo and behold, we work only one shift in a day.

So, you have the entire infrastructure idling for 16 hours in a day. Can we not put that same infrastructure to better use and expand 3 times or maybe 2.5 times, maybe 2.7 times – I don’t know. Friends from industry would be better equipped to help guide us what could be done. And, again, this is not an isolated case. There are tonnes of things like that where we can really bring in efficiency in the way we think, the way we work. Can you imagine what would be the reduction in cost if that factory instead of producing a 1000, does 5000 every year? And that will release the funds, make it available for us to scale up the modernisation of the entire network quickly. It just doesn’t need too much investment also. What I was told was probably an investment of a 1000 crores to expand it 5 times, just about a 1000 crores.

I have been in my own small way trying to see how we can bring in innovative financing models. My own sense is if he pays everybody on the 30th day that itself probably may bring down the cost of procurement by 10-15-20% for everything we procure. Would you agree with me ladies and gentlemen?

And, suppose you don’t have to spend a year, 2 years to get your design approved, what impact would that have on the system? But I need your support and encouragement, maybe a little patience also, to make us succeed. I can’t do it alone. I have great encouragement. I have great guidance from Prime Minister Modi. He is a true visionary who comes up with very exciting suggestions, just a few days back he was asking me to see if we can do a zero-based new timetable of the railways, completely new timetable. Start from scratch, bring in the best of OR experts from around the world to help us see what can be done. Can the passenger trains run in sequence one after the other? Can we have freight trains also having a timetable, again running in sequence? Can we guarantee traffic blocks for maintenance so that we don’t have unfortunate incidents like the Utkal Express? Can we de-clog wherever there is a capacity constraint through expanded lines?

Can we prioritize what needs to be done, I mean I was amazed, and I can share with you and for me it’s a whole learning experience which keeps me… I mean I get up every morning with some railway thought which has bothered me the whole night. I promise you, every morning I get up with the railways on my head. And there’s so much that can be done. But I can’t do it alone.

Fortunately, I have a very supportive team working with me. Many of you met me or heard me when I was the Power, Coal and Renewable Energy, Mines Minister, you will recall that I used to very proudly say that I have the best team working for me in those departments. I had some fantastic people, and we were able to, I think in some small measure, serve the people of India in an efficient manner. We have surplus power in the country today, a small blip in the coal in the last month or so, but that will be made up. We have just signed our agreement with the workmen, the new wage negotiation is over and we have finalized our wage agreement only yesterday, and I am expecting a quantum jump in coal production and supply going forward with railways and coal working hand-in-hand.

But now I want to see in the railways what’s the better word than best, some good English expert here? The bestest of the best! That’s what the railways is going to be – the bestest of the best! And I have no doubt in my mind we will do it.

For those of you here from the industry, I would urge you to look at partnerships, and get the best of technologies, offer it to the railways. I assure you, personally, that we will take a quick call on whatever new ideas you bring to the table. We will try and scale up the implementation of those ideas with assured business for years to come, just like the Powergrid or NTPC model. What did Powergrid do when we wanted sub-stations in India? We tendered out, let’s say, 10 or 20 sub-stations. We said you can give the first 4 even from imports, and during that period you set up your manufacturing base in India and we will then expect you to give the next 6 from India. You can quote what it will be for the first 4, and for the next 6, the computer will work out what will be the most efficient price formulae for us, and that’s very simple if you define the discount rate upfront and the time of supply.

And, the same thing NTPC did with thermal power plants. And today I am happy to share with you that the entire country is served by mostly, in fact, probably up to 90% if not more, is served by manufacturing in India – for transformers, for power equipment. You will see the same wave happening now in solar power, wind is already largely Indian. Solar needed that scale, and that scale today having been achieved, we are almost 5 times what we were 3 years ago. My own feeling is that today you will see solar also becoming a product manufactured in India to scale.

Same way in the railways, bring in the best of technologies. And that is the whole intention of our engagement with Japan also, thank you very much for being the partner country here. It reflects the commitment that the Japanese government and his Excellency, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe san has in his relationship with the Indian government, Prime Minister Modi, and the people-to-people relationship between Japan and India, which started decades ago to work together for a better India, for a better future for the people of India.

And the Shinkansen technology also is going to come along with this first project, so that we can manufacture to scale in India, we can expand the bullet train network into the interiors of India, so that we can start producing in India to serve the rest of the world in a cost-effective and efficient manner at prices the world would never have seen before. And, that’s the whole excitement of bringing in new technology to India.

Larger contracts on electrification are on the anvil for those of you who are engaged in electrification. I found that the contracts used to be 30 kms, 40 kms. For the life of me I can’t understand what gain was there in that. People had to have a whole system, a whole mobilizing of the whole system and then do 30 kms and walk out. I would rather do 500 kms at a time, so that people can bring in technology, can bring in modern equipment, can plan a whole line from end-to-end, can start work at 10 places and finish it in time.

I saw the drone technology being used in the dedicated freight corridor for monitoring, though I do believe we can do it more efficiently as some experts came and demonstrated to me to plan out how drone can help us prepare our pert charts in a more efficient manner. So, we are a team, willing to work with all of you, a team in a hurry to engage with technology, to engage with innovation. We are a team who wants the Indian railways to be modern, to be safe, to be secure, to be comfortable, to be efficient, punctual.

And, ladies and gentlemen, as Albert Einstein had once said, ‘In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.’ And I can only hope that the days of difficulty are behind us, and the days of opportunity – opportunity to serve, opportunity to become the ‘bestest of the best’ and opportunity to make the Indian railways one of the finest railways in the world, a catalyst of growth, somebody who engages with innovation, with technology, an organization that is sensitive for its own people, as well as for the people of India. An organization that understands the woes of business, the difficulties of business, that is willing to work with business also as a partner to make it a win-win for all the stakeholders in the railway network.

My best wishes for the engagement that this Conference is going to have over the next 2 or 3 days, my best wishes to all the exhibitors. I would urge all the people from the technology side in the railways, if possible not only from Delhi, but from across the country also to be deputed, brought to Delhi. I will not be able to spend too much time on the exhibition, but I would expect you all to brief me about what you all have found as new ideas, new engagements, spend a couple of days here, have different teams spend a couple of days here, get some youngsters, your new officers also to come in and see with a fresh mind what new things can be done here.

And at the end of the Conference, I will hope that the officials as well as the organizers will put together a paper separately for my consideration, so that one more night I can stay awake till 3 in the night.

Thank you very much.

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