Sucheta and Debashis have been friends for – I don’t even know from when, you will have to remind me about that also. They have been wonderful socially-conscious couple. I still remember when she first got into public awareness and more of a social activist role. I had actually told her, why are you doing this, you have such a brilliant career ahead of you. But I am delighted that she has chosen to serve society. I do believe we need many more people who are willing to sacrifice, possibly the better things in life, but yet want to make a difference to our society, to our nation.
And I certainly wish Money Life Foundation with 59,000 members today, great success in the work that Sucheta and Debashis, Mr Walter Vieira, and all of you have embarked on. It’s also very delightful to see this programme at the Bombay Stock Exchange with Ashish Chouhan in full attendance, particularly, since I have very good memories of her own fight against the Bombay Stock Exchange many-many years ago. (inaudible).
And I will also have to now start remembering all those nuggets of our conversations back then. But truly, a couple which has steadfastly focused on change, change for the better. I for one welcome suggestions, welcome criticism. In fact, my last engagement with my own staff was about 2nd or 3rd January when I had invited my personal team, the team that works in my personal office for lunch in Delhi. We spent 2 hours, and the only agenda on the table was criticism, not criticism about the railways – it was criticism about me. And nobody in that room, and the best criticism came from a 19-year old boy who works in my office.
But we spent 2 hours reflecting on the four months that had gone by in the railways, their observations about everything – my speeches, and then they have also (inaudible) it up with small notes that you speak too much, speeches are too long, cut them short; you are a storyteller, stop telling stories; you make very long sentences, be brief. And truly those two hours that I spent with my team was worth its weight in gold in terms of the feedback that those young boys and girls could give me about what’s wrong in my everything – I told them to criticize my dress, criticize my behaviour, criticize my anger, and they were brilliant.
And in some sense, the three and a half years I spent in government today are an outcome of the feedback that well-meaning citizens like you have given me, well-meaning journalists have given me over these three and a half years, particularly, since the entire focus of my work has been in terms of trying to bring transparency in the entire working of government, making it less opaque, letting the world know exactly what’s happening so that people can monitor our work, hold us accountable for it.
And, therefore, the reason for my being here today is all of you distinguished ladies and gentlemen, and I thank you very much for being here, sparing your time even though I could only start the programme a little late for which my sincerest apologies. In an earlier programme before this, I mentioned why I could not be in time for all my engagements. Of course, it started right from Delhi where flights were slightly delayed and then the circling in the air in Mumbai, so I started the day a little late.
But as Sucheta said rightly, that cannot be an excuse just like late trains cannot be an – there’s no excuse for late travel or bad punctuality on the train network. But then the meeting before I came to the BSE was very interesting and I want to share a little bit about that before I come to the railways. Because, in some sense, it resonates with today’s subject where you wanted me to focus on, whether Indian railways could be an engine of the Indian growth story.
Over the years, we have had good years, bad years, the country has grown. Most of us in this room have a better life today, have more money today, have more assets today than we had maybe 20 years/50 years ago. Yet there are large parts of India that have remained left behind, they have not been able to board the train. We have heard of them as backward districts. Over the years, we have identified districts as backward; certain programmes have been targeted towards bringing up these districts better.
But, sadly, the mindset that we have inculcated in this nation in 7 decades of independence has been one where the fight is not to come out of poverty; the fight is how can we retain our BPL card, so that we can get some freebies associated with it. Sadly, the aspirations of a large part of India have remained unfulfilled even as you and I are doing better in life. And it is these aspirational districts Prime Minister Modi has worked with the Niti Aayog to identify 115 districts in India, which are now termed ‘aspirational districts.’
These are districts where relative to other districts in the same state the human development indices, the indicators of quality of life are worse off than the rest of the districts in each state. And the effort is not to talk about funding those districts extra or not to talk about some new subsidy to these districts. The effort is to work with all the stakeholders as a team, bring competition amongst these districts to help them evolve and do better in life, month-on-month, day-on-day and help these areas come out of the darkness, come out of the very-very abysmally low stage of development that they are unfortunately in.
Each district has been associated with a very senior official, Joint Secretary and above of the central government. Ministers have been made responsible to connect with the collectors and the officials at these district level, state government officials, the senior officials from the central government and help the entire programme and bring up the level of development in these districts. Because India truly cannot develop in this lopsided fashion. We cannot have one India which is looking at huge growth, development, better quality of life, more and more comfort, luxury, and large parts of the section of India remaining deprived of even the basic amenities of life.
And today was my first interaction with the district collectors and officials of 4 districts in Maharashtra which have been identified as aspirational districts – Gadchiroli, Washim, Osmanabad; I think Nandurbar, with the central government officials, 3 Joint Secretaries and 1 Additional Secretary, with the state government officials at level of Additional Chief Secretaries and other senior officials.
And truly it was an engagement that I learnt a lot from. Because very often, people like you and me who are born and brought up in large cities don’t really realize what ails large parts of this country, what are the difficulties and problems in which these families, their children are living, studying, working. We are also trying to get corporate India to partner with the initiative so that a number of programmes can be done through joint public-private partnership. Corporates, NGOs, well-meaning individuals, so we have for example the Tata Trusts and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation sending out teams to these districts to do an on-the-ground assessment of the real position, the real situation on the ground, going beyond the government statistics and basis that preparing a holistic vision for the development of these districts.
And, ladies and gentlemen, why I spoke about this is because I want you to realize that unless we are able to bring up this large section of India and bring them into the mainstream, we are not going to be able to truly call ourselves a developed nation, we are not ever going to be able to, at least certainly not me, feel peacefully at night and feel that it’s a job well done.
Transport infrastructure plays an important role in the development of any region. In fact, I usually like to do a root cause analysis of every problem or every challenge that we are faced with. I am no more the Power Minister, but realised at the end of the meeting that out of all the various issues that we discussed unless we bring connectivity to those remote areas, to those sometimes forest areas, some of them Maoist-affected areas in Gadchiroli, deep into the jungles, very poor access, road, rail connectivity, telecom connectivity. Many remote villages not getting full power despite all the best efforts, some places where security concerns are serious.
Unless development reaches every nook and corner of the country and these 115 aspirational districts are brought into the focus of our working we may never be able to really feel or even for that matter achieve the true potential of India and its economy. Because that will tend to drive us down, that will tend to pull us down. We may do wonderful and great things, the economy may grow, technology world, the world of innovation may come to India, but we will have to be sensitive to this section.
And I was seeing the population of these 4 districts, just these 4 districts in Maharashtra alone house 5.5 million people. Transport, of course, is one of the most factors for a vibrant economy, country’s progress, and we will certainly have to do a lot of things to connect these regions with the rest of India. We have, to my mind, missed the bus, lost a lot of golden opportunities over many years, but are making a very-very committed effort to move the needle faster, to change the pace of development.
A simple piece of information will help you realize the scale at which the government is focusing on sectors, the infrastructure sectors, particularly, the railways. 4 years ago before this government came in, the capital investment of the Indian railways was a total of 53,000 crore rupees annually in the year 2013-14. And if you looked at the 5-year period 2009-14, it was an average of about 45-46,000 crore rupees, the capex, over a 5-year period, ending at 53,000. So I think it would have started at about 40, ended at 53 in a 5-year period, so you get that average.
The Indian railways, while I cannot divulge our plans for 2018-19, we have to wait for 1st February and the budget to know that, but in the current year, is investing upward of 1,30,000 crores in the Indian railways. That’s the quantum leap in terms of recognizing the importance of the railways and the importance of railways as an engine of growth which has a multiplier effect which will impact the entire economy.
I am given to understand that some studies have shown that every rupee invested in the railways has a 5x multiplier effect. But then what are we investing in? What is the objective that we are working on? And if I may summarize in 3 words, I think all that we are looking for amongst many-many larger objectives or the detail of each of these objectives is a safer railway, a cleaner railway and a smarter railway.
And if you look at the various programmes that the Indian railways has embarked on in the last three and a half years and I must say that Mr Sadanand Gowda and Mr Suresh Prabhu before me have really toiled to set the agenda in action, have really drawn up outstanding plans, the building blocks that they have built up to achieve this level of investment and further growth going forward is truly remarkable, in fact, makes my job so much simpler that the entire framework has been put in place by my two illustrious predecessors to bring in speed, to bring in scale in the various projects that railways has been doing for many years or has embarked upon now. And I will try to give a few examples to reflect the changing mindset of the Indian railways with which we are working today.
I don’t know how they got all those clippings and from where they pieced together all that information. I didn’t even know there are CCTV cameras in the hospital where I was admitted. But one thing I am certainly trying to do is to set up 2 million CCTV cameras in the entire Indian railway network. I am hoping to see every coach mapped by CCTV cameras, particularly, the passenger coaches, every station mapped by CCTV cameras, the housing colonies, the offices of the Indian railways – all of which will link in to the railway stations as the train passes, within the train will link to the driver and the guard, motorman and the guard, within link to the police station, to the divisional headquarters, zonal headquarters and my office in Delhi, so that we can really monitor what is happening across the railways running thousands of trains every day.
And think of the game changing impact of this small programme. Of course, we have CCTV projects going on across the country, both in railways and outside, but when I spoke to some stakeholders in the security industry that this is my vision and I want it to be done within the next 15 months. They said but all of India doesn’t buy 2 million CCTV cameras in a year. But I don’t think I have the luxury of time to wait, do I? You all want safer travel. Of course, there are challenges, my biggest challenges I am told how will we fit it so that people don’t take it out and sell it off in the market.
But I leave it for my officials, all of whom have huge technical knowledge, technical expertise. And I must tell you, after 4 months of engagement with this team of 1.3 million people, not that I have been able to meet all of them but you get a sense and a flavour after you meet people at different levels in different parts of the country. I have reviewed all the zones, all the PSUs, all the important divisions of the railway, but I must share with you, I don’t know whether Sucheta would ever agree with me on that, but I must share with you it’s truly a team of remarkable human beings. It’s truly a team which is committed to do some good job. I think what we lacked was vision. What we lacked was leadership. Once you empower a railway official, once you empower a railway workman, I promise you they can give you extraordinary results. And I have no doubt in my mind that that’s exactly what this nation is going to experience in the days to come.
And why do I say this with authority? In my first few days as Rail Minister, I was reviewing some of the southern zones in Bangalore. I still remember the date, it was 18th September. And I said that in 30 days, and in the context of what Debashis has just shown us you can imagine what my scepticism was when I said this that in 30 days I want you to prepare a first-cut report on what should be done to solve the travel woes of Bangalore and put up to me a first report. I am not looking at a detailed project report, all that can happen later. But a general sense of what are the traffic bottlenecks so that it doesn’t take me 2 hours to travel from the Kempegowda airport to the city, what can we do to unlock value in some of the assets that we have and net-net what would be our investment, so that we can empower Bangalore with a good suburban service.
You will be happy to know that the general manager there put down a whole to-do list, a task to be done, with a responsible officer and a timeline to meet that 30-day target. And I was only 14 days into the job that day. On the 20th he made out this responsibility timeline matrix of task to be done, had his officials get down to the job. They invited offers from companies to do this mapping of the requirement. For paucity of time, they took RITES on the job, on 27th September, they gave RITES the assignment. When RITES asked for certain data and they realised that the data room didn’t have the full details and the maps, they engaged ISRO to give satellite images to provide all the asset details.
On the 10th of the month, following month, in October, RITES presented their first report. And on the 18th October – exactly a month from the day I reviewed that zone – they had before me a first-cut report giving a fair idea. And by the way, I had asked them to do a rail-on-rail and a road on top of that. I had said I want a 2-layer project, so that we can even have a road going on top of the rail and they gave me that report in 30 days.
Of course, it showed that it would not be the most ideal situation to have that 3rd layer of road for cost reasons, I mean while we have that all over the world, in the Indian context the cost benefit was not working out, so we learnt our lessons from that 30-day report. Then the next cycle, we removed the road to bring down the cost, reassess it. But within about 75 days, we have a fair idea of what exactly it will take to solve the woes of the city of Bangalore. Contrast that with the problem that Debashis just highlighted to you.
Of course, I am in Mumbai and I am very conscious that you are not as much interested in Bengaluru except for the few IT professionals, who may be in the audience, but would love to know more about our problems. But let me assure you, I am a Mumbaikar who has travelled in Mumbai trains extensively. I used to live in Sion where I was born and brought up, and schooled. So I would take a train from Sion to Dadar on the central railway, change to western railway and come to Churchgate for 8 years, all through my college days, graduation and then law.
So I am fairly familiar with the fun we used to have hanging on the edge of the coach, despite all the (inaudible) risks. I am fully conscious that we need to expand the network for more services. We need to transform the passenger experience in Mumbai. I am happy to share with you that I had also come down to Delhi yesterday for a few hours to meet the honourable Chief Minister Shri Devendra Fadnavisji, a person though not a Mumbaikar, but whose heart truly beats for Mumbai.
I don’t think Maharashtra has ever been blessed with a more committed Chief Minister with a deep focus on the well-being of his people, on the future of the state. And we spent a good amount of time assessing the needs to make the Mumbai transport network where we discussed the railway expansion, where we discussed the next steps on expanding the air-conditioned train services, ramp it up very rapidly, where we discussed the dovetailing of metro and Indian railways with a lot of interconnecting stations for people to seamlessly go from one to the other. In some cases, like Wadala also the mono rail, where we discussed expanding northwards, both on the central and western side, going to the newer areas where population is growing very rapidly, beyond Vasai-Virar and beyond Kalyan-Karjat on this side, where we looked at new signalling systems. We looked at investments in new lines connecting the central and western railway.
And I am quite hopeful given the enthusiasm and support that I saw from the state government, from the municipal corporation and, of course, the railways who had prepared the blueprint, the master plan for Mumbai, I am quite, I feel much more empowered today addressing you that we can and we will solve the problems of Mumbai suburban network.
I am also, of course, very keen to make a beautiful museum in Mumbai at the VT station, which I think is one of the most iconic and beautiful buildings I have ever seen in my life, a world heritage – the only world heritage property that we have in Mumbai. And I do hope I will receive the blessings of the citizens of Mumbai, because I believe Mumbai and the Indian railways share a very rich history and a legacy together. The first train having chucked out of Thane – between Thane and VT – over a century ago, sad part is we are still living a century ago.
I was taking a round on the same day that I took ill of the displayed artefacts, pictures, time tables at the VT station. We have a small display area there, and I was shocked to see that the travel time between Mumbai and Peshawar pre-independence was less than the travel time that it takes between Mumbai to probably Jammu or Amritsar today, forget Peshawar. I am sure there must be more stops on the way. I am sure there are challenges that must have happened came along the way, but we never kept a pace with technology, with time, with innovation, with what’s happening in the rest of the world.
There is this Kerala Express that goes I think from Trivandrum to New Delhi. It takes nearly two days or so, I don’t know. It takes 4 hours more today than it took in 1978 – 40 years ago. Now, I am not here for a blame game. But, clearly, you can’t call the railways the lifeline of India and not invest in the railways, keeping pace with the increased demands, the need for services.
And I am delighted that Sucheta and her team at Money Life Foundation have put together a few suggestions for me to consider, and I was going through them before I came here. Some very good ideas are there, of course, some misunderstood realities also.
I have taken up all the reports that Dr Anil Kakodkar had made, Dr Vivek Debroy had made, Dr Rakesh Mohan sent me his study on safety soon after I took charge. There is one more report; we are working on all 4 of these reports. And I am hoping that before the end of the first term’s last year, Debashis you have already written us off yaar. This is not my last year; this is the last year of our first term in office. I am not being arrogant, but I was always an optimist. And I believe that the people of India are smarter than people anywhere in the world and they know what is good for them. I am not giving an election spin here, don’t worry. Elections are happening in the North East.
But, good suggestions, good food for thought, a lot that can be done. My focus from the day I took charge, in fact, when I took charge on the 4th September, I was sitting with the railway board members in my office, late in the evening. And that’s where we took these decisions about all these linesmen and all working in the homes. I was a little worried when Debashis again talked about it. I was telling Sucheta bhai baar baar yaad mat dilao, cooperation milna band ho jayega! But that’s a forgotten story; I don’t want to rub it in.
But I tell you, the effort that they are putting in now in this empowered atmosphere. One of the railway board meetings, and for your information, now the railway board meets every week, compulsory. Every week there’s a railway board meeting. Gone are the days where for years papers were lying in the railway board. That’s over. History!
And my mandate to them is if there is no agenda, and with the speed with which we are delegating powers, I am hoping that there will soon be a day there will be no agenda, but they will still meet for a cup of tea and disperse, but the meeting will take place. Just like I meet with my railway board, twice a month, on the 2nd and 4th Wednesdays, over lunch, just to exchange on a free and flowing basis ideas, exchange thoughts, difficulties, any decisions that need to be wrapped up. Sit across the table over a soup; and railway soup is still not too bad though. I am a vegetarian. And I don’t count my chickens before they have hatched.
But when I see what they are doing today, and I can share a small example of the changing times, just like I spoke about Bangalore. I had an even better experience. When we brought in the army, my officials were very unhappy, and rightly so. But I had a larger and a more holistic thought process behind it. While on the one hand, as a Mumbaikar, I couldn’t afford even a single day’s delay in ensuring that at least those most critical new foot bridges come up in the fastest possible time. And, after assessing the landscape, the army was the only organisation which could do it and I will tell you why. Even the railways can possibly build it in 90 days, but we don’t have an army of workmen in the railways. All our jobs are subcontracted.
So you have to run through a whole tendering process, with all the attendant complaints and counter-complaints of those who get it or those who don’t get it, with all the attendant formalities that we have inherited from the British and continue to keep adding layers on. Because we don’t have our own workforce which can do it. We don’t keep stock of material which can be used, so we have to procure all that material before we can implement the project.
And I could clearly see that the Mumbai citizen is not patient, he is not going to wait. He wants to see action on the ground. And there’s no other body in the country except the army which has its own engineering core, which has its own workmen and which keeps in stock material which can be used to quickly put up 3 foot over bridges in a record time. And at the same time, what did I achieve?
I don’t know whether it’s been implemented, but I had ordered that all the 17 zones will send their teams to study the way the army is functioning and implementing this project. It was a skill development, a training programme for all of us also. Simultaneously, it has spurred the railway man’s own self respect. It has brought that fire in the belly in the railway system, so much so that the general manager of central railway, Mr Sharma here, has assured me that before the army finishes that bridge I will have one bridge ready, on the 26th January.
Frankly, and of course, one must not forget that the – and this was told to me directly by the Chief of the Army. I met him just 2 or 3 days before we came to Mumbai, Nirmalaji and I, at a social gathering. And he comes up to me with pride. He was in uniform, and he thanked me. I was a little taken aback. I thought by now the army people would be cursing that we are considering such a option. I had sent the recce teams to come in and have a first look through Nirmalaji, before we both came down here.
He came with pride, as we were two in school, chest out chin up. And he thanked me for giving an opportunity to the army to serve the nation. And as he said to me that day that the army is, of course, meant to protect the borders and ensure and protect the country, but we are also a peacekeeping force, peace time force. We are also available at the times of civilian need, any time, 24 hours, 365 days a year my army stands by to help the people of India.
It was a day of great pride for me. And I believe these 3 foot over bridges that they are making will be testimony to the changing way the railways is going to work in the future, is going to be a kind of benchmark for us to follow through going forward. And in our very small and humble way, I can’t bring back my Mumbaikars from that very fateful day, but certainly, we should ensure that their sacrifice doesn’t go in waste. And it’s our duty to make sure that going forward, safety of every person using the rail network becomes of paramount importance.
And I remember, the next day was Dussehra, all officials, the entire railway board came down from Delhi. We had our own learnings from that very tragic accident and I do hope that the changes that we have made in the last 4 months and continue to make in the days ahead, be it the way we are re-categorising stations to also now reflect passenger footfalls.
So a suburban station need not always be C-category, just because it’s suburban. So now, instead of revenue being our driver of the Indian railways and investments and amenities, we have a matrix of revenue, passenger footfall and strategic importance, so that a station in Mughal Sarai, which is in Northern India, Uttar Pradesh, and which is literally like the heart of the Indian railways – the most clogged and congested route. Even though originating traffic may not be there, no revenues, no passengers also, but it’s strategic importance is far greater than anything else.
So now we have a matrix on three parameters that we categorize stations which helps us divert more funds for the development of these stations. And, of course, we have also now changed the stations, foot over bridges, entry and exit points, all of this is now no more a passenger amenity which it has been considered for over a 150 years, but is now considered as a passenger necessity and is now a part of safety, for which there is no constraint on budget. We have already announced and resolved in the Indian railways that for any item related to safety we shall have no budgetary constraint. It will be unlimited budget for safety related items.
And results have started coming up. You will be happy to know that in the first 8 months of this current year up to August, we had a average monthly track renewal of about 233 kms – track renewal is the maintenance, the replacement of worn-out tracks with new tracks. We did about 233 kms per month for the first 8 months. After taking charge in September, I diverted all the available rail and for various reasons, the Indian railways only used to buy rail from Steel Authority of India Limited. And because of capacity constraints, their new mills were still under testing and commissioning. There was a shortage of rail track for many years adding to the backlog.
I decided to divert all the available rail for track renewal, at the cost of new line development, because I believe what will I do with more new lines until I can provide safe travel (inaudible) on the existing lines. And you will be happy to know, in November, it takes some time, we took that decision on 7th of September. So, by the time the reorientation, the shifting of rail to the new areas where the track renewal was required then, we prioritized what was most urgent.
And you will be happy to know, in November, we did 399 kms of track renewal, and in December, they had promised me 420 and I was very-very worried, I said bhai 2-3 km zyada kar dena, don’t give me the figure of 420.
The Indian railways, and the same officials, gave you the extraordinary performance of track renewal of 476 kms, nearly twice the average of the first 8 months, in the month of December. That’s what empowering people can do for you. In fact, speed is the credo of this government on every project; you can take any project that Prime Minister Modi has taken on.
The other day we were seeing the optic fibre cable that has been laid across India. About 358 kms of optic fibre had been laid until 2014. Three years later, it was over 2 lakh km of optic fibre under Bharat Net. The pace of track doubling, the pace of conversion to broad gauge, the pace of electrification; all of them have almost doubled or near about in the last three and a half years.
And I do believe these technology gaps, the backlog that we have accumulated – I mean, can you imagine, in today’s day and age somebody going and checking your track manually? That’s what we are trying to change – technology, better ways to do the same job, smarter ways to do the same job to provide safety to our passengers, our stakeholders.
And if one looks at India’s history, India’s economic growth has been intertwined with the growth of the railways. The textile hub that Mumbai became, the Manchester of the East at that point of time, or the Jute industry near Kolkata or the coal mines in Jharkhand, all of these got developed around the Indian railways and made India self-sufficient. Even a thing like wheat, we started exporting the first time when the railways could move large quantities to the ports.
And as Abraham Lincoln has said, “The best way to predict your future is to create it.” And that’s what we are trying to do. We are working on time-bound execution of projects. I have asked my colleagues that don’t start a project till you have the land in place. It makes no sense that you have a project that started in West Bengal in 1975 and to date not even 50% complete, cost has gone up by 5 or 6 times or maybe more and the state still doesn’t give you land to complete the project.
We are looking at more and more outcome-based budgeting, so that the money can be spent, give you fast results, people can start using them or freight can start moving on them, rather than distributing your resources over 458 projects which are going on and none of them getting completed or very few of them getting completed every year. And on top of that, announcing new lines and new projects every year.
Our focus has been on ensuring completion of these projects, transforming the way the Indian railways thinks and works. And our transformational journey is around giving direction to the Indian railways, what we want to do, a clear vision, the clear strategy for change, delivering consistent performance. It could be a small project like CCTVs I told you, or it could be the new project that we are hoping to embark on, once I get the necessary approvals, to change the signalling system in India.
Now, it pains me that the India of the 21st century is using a signalling system of the 19th century – red, yellow, amber, green! Are we still going to be dependent on age old technologies, so that in the fog a train just can’t move, because they can’t see the signal and they have to go slow till they can see the signal? Or are we going to have computer-controlled trains, locomotives which will have all the necessary data to know what is the distance between trains?
And, therefore, in the first review of the signalling and telecommunication department, I told them what is the latest technology in the world and they put it out before me. It took us less than – the whole meeting would have been about two and a half hours – it took us less than 30 seconds to decide that we need to revamp the entire signalling system in the railways and bring in the most modern ETCS-2, which can transform us into a safe railway, not only safety, it adds hugely to my capacity. Because instead of long time taken between trains, currently a train has to go to the next station before it’s allowed to leave the previous station.
But with that technology, hopefully, we can bring down the distance between trains as significantly as probably allowing 200 or 300% growth in traffic, of course, coupled with other improvements, the speed barriers, the speed restrictions, all of that. So it will be a holistic development to add capacity, to make it safer and to drive sustainable change in the passenger experience – cleanliness, quality of food, punctuality, the kind of stations that we are using, the facilities at the stations – all of these are absolutely essential and is the duty of all of us to provide.
And I don’t shirk away from that. I am hoping to be able to give a POS machine with a printer to all the catering staff, so that this problem of over-charging, tips, all of that will be over – tips I think is now by and large over. If anybody has any ‘tipping’ problem please do let us know, because we have made a whole campaign to stop the ‘tips’ and to ask people to ensure that you are not over-charged.
But the best way I thought is we will give digital handheld machines, so that you can even pay by BHIM app or your debit/credit card or any other electronic mean and you will have a printed receipt. Ideally, I would like to make it that if you don’t get a receipt your meal is free, just like at INOX.
Cleanliness is also a thing where I hope the CCTV cameras will help me, because then they will be conscious that they could be monitored from sitting in the office. What I am only trying to share with you is the holistic thinking behind every investment and project that we are trying to do and how each one of this creates jobs for the people directly and indirectly.
I was doing a rough assessment of the investment plans that we have drawn up and my own sense is that for the next 5 years, nearly 3 million people, and 3 million families in a way, will be supported through the capex plans of the Indian railways alone in different areas across the country. And in that sense, railways provides work opportunities in the length and breadth of the country in different fields; it could be masons, it could be carpenters, electricians, contract worker, it could be anything.
And this changed mindset will help us evolve this into a faster railway also. Many people, I don’t know Money Life’s views, I have not checked, were a little concerned about the bullet train project. And I remember reading in some editorials and articles about whether India needs a bullet train at all. In fact, it is this mindset, if I may use a term, it’s this dilapidated mindset of some people that has kept India backward.
The last train, fast train that India introduced was in 1969 or thereabouts when Rajdhani came in. Rajdhani came-in in 1969 and the then chairman of the railway board actually opposed it, saying why do we need a Rajdhani in India. And since then, 50 years later, no new high speed train of significance has been introduced – we have a Gatimaan going from Delhi to Agra and some small stuff like that.
Now, are we going to be relegated to second-class passenger experience? And by second-class, I am not talking of the first-class, second-class in the suburban, I am talking of an outdated, out-modelled system. Or are we going to plan for India’s future, so that the next generation, these kids there don’t feel ashamed of the legacy that you and I are leaving behind. And the first project, Mumbai to Ahmedabad is only the first of a series of projects. The idea is should we not map all the high density routes with high speed corridors and have 10,000 kms of high speed corridors, so that passenger experience travel can be a delight. And it’s an investment into the future of India.
I remember some criticism which was calculating that so much will be the interest on the bullet train, so many passengers will travel, so per passenger so much fare, will it be viable/unviable. Ladies and gentlemen, if viability was to be the only criteria of Indian railways, the first railway which would have to shut down would be the Mumbai Suburban network. This is also a public utility service.
We have to plan for the future because as the lifeline of passenger mobility in India, it’s not only the economic viability, but also the paradigm shift in thinking of technology. And I don’t know if many of you are aware, that this first project brings it with the technology which will help us make in India all the ingredients that go into the bullet train project.
Of course, it adds to the economic activity when we spend $13 billion, of which the import content is just about 3 or 4 billion dollars and with that we get the technology, so that India can start manufacturing all of this, not only for India’s needs, but for needs of the whole world and become an export hub of modern technology, rather than still struggling with age old heritage pieces.
Electrification is another area of focus, I am looking at 100% electrification of the Indian railways, not because it will save Rs 10,000 crore for the railways, that’s an added benefit, but because Prime Minister Modi and his government cares for climate change. We believe that it’s our duty to leave behind a better planet than the one we inherited for our next generation to enjoy. We cannot anymore afford the kind of carbon that is being emitted, and which is causing serious environmental and ecological disasters in the world today.
I don’t know how you will take it, but 50% of the trains that come into Delhi are still diesel-driven – 50%! Delhi is electrified, but there are patches that the train travels which are not yet electrified, so effectively, you are using diesel for the whole journey, not even using the investment you have made in electrification of the railways efficiently.
That’s the kind of thinking which is now emerging over the last 3-4 years. We have doubled the pace of electrification already, going forward, in the next 5 years, we want to double it twice over, so that in 5 or 6 years, India will be the world’s first 100% electrified rail network.
I am sure in all these efforts to strive to build a New India, and a new Indian railway and as most of you would be aware, 15th August, 2022, as India turns 75 years of independence, this government and Prime Minister Modi personally stands committed to a New India, an India which is free of poverty, an India which is rid of casteism and communalism, an India where every citizen has a roof on his head, an India where every home has a toilet, has 24 hours electricity, water, clean drinking water, road access, good schools, healthcare around the vicinity, and as we work towards that, I can assure you ladies and gentlemen, we are embarking on this journey of transforming Indian railways into a New Indian railway-2022.
I seek your blessings at this journey.