October 5, 2018

Speaking at 16th Hindustan Times Leadership Summit, 2018

Q: Good afternoon everyone and welcome back. I am glad we have Mr. Goyal doing this session soon after lunch. It’s called the graveyard shift usually because people have had a heavy lunch, some are still drifting in but I know Mr. Goyal. He speaks very engagingly on a variety of issues, he has handled very key ministries and more importantly he is one of the most astute politicians in the country. So I am hoping that we can cover all of that. I am going to start with an audience question though. How many of you have taken a railway journey in the last one year and being on the Delhi Metro doesn’t count, right. So that’s about, keep your hands up please, that’s around 30 people out of 300, 10% now I know why you are the treasurer, right 10%. I think the big challenge for you is to really increase this 10% to at least around 25-30%. So, can you start off by telling us how you plan to do this?

A: Thank you Sukumar and before I start I must compliment you this is a delight to see. This has been the agenda of my Prime Minister, the government and me personally also and it’s really delightful to see that you have brought in the green element into this program, just absolutely outstanding. Compliments to the HT team for this initiative. This is the first time I have attended a programme where a backdrop as beautiful.

You know when I just took charge of the Railways and today is the 366th day since I took charge as the Railway Minister. I think there was just one mool mantra that drove all the effort in programs that I have worked on and that has been to bring the charm back to rail travel. I have very fond memories of my childhood when a train journey with cutlets and toast with tea in that thermos being served by a liveried butler was truly a very elegant experience.

Sadly what happened over the last 70 years was that the Railways expanded its patronage many times over, in fact, I think in terms of passengers or in terms of freight we are now servicing about 1500% more people and more freight is carried than what it was 50-60 years ago, a growth nearly 15X whereas the services or the available infrastructure has grown barely 25-30%. So, in a manner of speaking we have overloaded an existing infrastructure to the point of breaking down.

Prime Minister Modi understood that unless we invest heavily in connectivity, in creating infrastructure on roads, railways, airports and airways, of course, digitalization has been an important element of our government’s work, we will not be able to really prepare India for tomorrow. Something like what Kennedy had said “who made the country great, the roads made America or America made roads”.

Similarly, the Railways in the Indian context have a very important role and therefore I am happy to share with you that in the last four years and the current year 5th year together cumulatively we will be investing on the capex in Indian Railways about 5,30,000 crore which is two and a half times what was invested in the five years before we came in. And in a manner of speaking if you look at the last let’s say 30 or 40 years this would be a growth which would probably be 15 or 20 times the CAGR that we have seen over the last 30-40 years.

And to my mind this kind of investment has empowered the Railways to literally once again try to see we can improve on our punctuality, we can improve our safety, we can improve on the quality of catering, whether we can make our railway stations a better experience for the passengers, can we move larger quantities of freight working smart, using intelligent technologies, using artificial intelligence in our planning process and while I can reel off as many statistics on different areas of the Railways as you want. If you can expand my time a little bit I can give you so much dope of what has happened in the last four years.

But I’ll just share one small statistic to explain how this government gets tracking on a particular task and achieves results. In the year 13-14 there were 118 accidents which were caused because of unmanned level crossings, 118 in the year 13-14. Prime Minister Modi decide that we should eliminate all unmanned level crossings in this country. In the first four years we eliminated about, in the first three years until I came in about September 4th is the date I took charge last year we had eliminated a good 1100 every year.

There were about 550 thousand or so when I became minister a year ago and obviously since I had come in the backdrop of a very serious accident my first meeting was on safety around 7th or 9th of September last year and I said in one year I want every unmanned level crossing eliminated in this country. I can promise you the entire team, there were 30-40 in the room and many on the video screens all over the country they were aghast, they said this is not possible period. I said नहीं मेरे को अगले गणपति तक अनमैन्ड लेवल क्रॉसिंग्स ख़त्म करने हैं .

I actually took out the date 12-13 September तक I want all unmanned level crossings gone and then I gave them a grace, I said 30th September. Then the Board wrote all sorts of, did all deliberations all over the country and said this is not possible we will do it in the ABC routes. I accepted that on file I said fine let’s prioritize the ABC routes, the ones which have busy traffic but I still want everything eliminated and we kept pursuing them.

I am happy to share with you ladies and gentlemen, in the last six months between April and now we have had only three accidents because of unmanned level crossings as against 118 in 12 months barely three years ago. And today as I speak to you, as on 30th September we have been able to eliminate nearly 5000 of those 5500 and today we have only 474 unmanned level crossings.

Now you can jolly well say I failed, I have not eliminated all. But I believe we should have very high aspirational targets and that encourages the team to perform and now they have promised me that by December we will complete it. I have told them do it by 31st october कश्मकश चल रही है अब देखते हैं  31st अक्टूबर को हो जाएगा may be 15 नवंबर को हो जाएगा but it’s something which they themselves did not believe is possible but it’s they themselves who have achieved it. I didn’t do a single unmanned level crossing converted to a manned or a RUB or an ROB.

But it’s only you have to empower your team, you have to encourage them, set very high aspirational goals, monitor their work, keep encouraging them on a regular basis, hold them accountable when they are not performing and these are not any mool mantras that is something new to anybody in this room. And my own sense is as the Railways gets safer, as the Railways gets cleaner and I would like all of you to visit any railway station near you and see the stark difference between the past and now.

We certainly have challenges. I have an infrastructure which in many cases is 150 years old. I have a signaling system which is a hundred year old. I still have coaches which are of a design which is called the ICF coach design which is actually not the best way to travel in and not the safest journey. So, what did I do, I discontinued all manufacturing of ICF design. The board was aghast that you can’t do that, I said no we are going to do that.

And look at the transformational journey. A factory which was initiated in Raebareli which is coming under the Amethi constituency, need I say more about it, it was announced in 2007-08, until 14 it had not produced a single coach. In the year 14-15 we gave it a trust, it started manufacturing. Last year it made some 700 coaches of LHB design, a good study design where fatalities can be avoided. Before that it had made 350 so it doubled production last year. Current year it will do 1500 and my target for next year is that it will make 3000. So, from 14-15 we have been able to ramp it up rapidly from almost one coach produced in 13-14 to 3000 next year, already we are at 1500 this year.

Q: I am glad you are speaking about manufacturing because in some ways I think the reason why the railways were such a key part of the first industrialized wave of growth in many countries was because one it mainstreamed destinations put places on the map, put them on the market, allowed for movement of goods and people but it also did two other things. The first one was it acted as in some ways an engine of manufacturing, right, it created a wave of manufacturing and it also resulted in a lot of jobs. Do you see Indian Railways starting to do that in a significant manner especially at a time when one you want to focus on making in India and two you have to create jobs?

A: Absolutely, in fact, while I have about 1.3 million people working directly in the Railways our own initial assessment is there are at least 2.5 million people who are working in the ecosystem of the Railways. After all you will imagine if we are investing 150,000 crore (one lakh fifty thousand crore) in the capex of the Railways in the current year obviously it’s leading to a lot of opportunities for people across the country. Contracts are being given out, material is being procured, parts are being procured.

This year we will be manufacturing, for example, 5500 LHB coaches which until three years ago would have been about 400-500 coaches. This year we are now going to be making about 700 or so locomotives which used to be maybe five years back 300 or thereabouts. The dedicated freight corridor started maybe 10 years ago but when we came in in 14 only 25% of the contracts were given out, 24% of the land was acquired. Today 99% of the land is acquired, I need a few hectares more and it’s all sorted and 100% of the contacts have been given out.

We have already started one stretch. Before March we would have started three stretches of the dedicated freight corridor. By end of 2020 we would have completed a project which hadn’t even taken off until 2014 and which is about 2800 km across the country which will ease the freight traffic, give more scope for passenger trains, ease the pressure on the passengers struggling to get tickets on Shatabdis and Rajdhanis.

I mean the whole effort and attempt is can we prepare Indian Railways for tomorrow. I’ll give you a shocking statistic which will take the daylights out of all the gentlemen and ladies assembled here. Can you believe until 2014 the Railways had not even planned to have a double line connecting Mumbai to Chennai, Hyderabad and Bangalore. There were stretches on these main routes which were single line stretches. Can you imagine a 160 year old railway which connects Mumbai-Bangalore, Mumbai-Chennai and Mumbai-Hyderabad with stretches which are single line sections.

We took it up on mission mode and I think in another 9 months or 12 months all of these three routes would be a 100% double line. And when you double a line it’s not as if you have doubled the capacity as any OR person or an engineer here will tell you, you actually create eight times the capacity because otherwise trains are crossing each other, going into the loop lines, I mean I have become half an engineer in the last five years.

Q: I want to move on from what I asked you about jobs to Jobs per se because I think this has become one of the most pressing issues at this point in time and it has also become a very contentious issue. You have various arguments flying around about whether jobs are being created or jobs are not being created. What is your sense? Has your government been able to create jobs?

A: I think the nature of jobs in the whole world today is changing. Let me take a simple example all the people who are working here in the organizing of this event none of them would come into the category of a job. All the cameramen, the staff working to keep this event going whoever is the event organizer none of them would come in the category of a job.

The days when you had power plants producing 4000 MW of power, a large steel plant coming in and giving maybe 50,000-60,000 people jobs and that was the category of jobs that the whole nation aspired for. Everybody wants a Railway job, everybody wants a job in Steel Authority of India Ltd., they would love to get a job in Power Grid Corporation.

Now that category of job or a government, central government, state government job cannot ultimately provide growth and progress for a nation. Entrepreneurship today is taking centre stage. More and more people are becoming innovators. I mean if 500,000 people are running an Uber cab service in Delhi none of them is coming into the category of job or is counted as a person who has got a job but he is providing a service, he is occupied, he is making good income and he is working.

I think the days where you could just look for people looking for category A government job or a category C or D or E government job those days are now well past behind us. People today are looking to I have an aspiration for much more. There is a set of people who will continue to look for government jobs certainly they should and they will but it’s not as if they are not occupied, it’s not as if they are not willing to make an income or a livelihood out of alternate occupations. This government has focused on encouraging that innovation that this country or that entrepreneurial spirit that this country always has demonstrated for centuries now.

I mean after all under the MUDRA loan scheme where you are giving loans from 10,000 to 10,00,000 rupees, if we have 130 million loans being given out in a short span of three years, it’s no small number. You have almost given out 500,000 crore of loans to small entrepreneurs. Somebody a lady who started a knitwear shop and then became the owner of a 30 machine enterprise.

I mean I don’t know how many of you saw Sui Dhaaga Made in India or Mad in India whatever it’s called. I mean I am a little bit of a movie buff but it was so encouraging to see that movie Sui Dhaaga and I am not getting any commission to market that movie, okay. But truly it gives you a little pep, it gives you an encouragement that that’s the India of tomorrow where we may have great fashion designers but we also have a handloom or a handicraft oriented couple being able to come in centre stage, win a fashion show and then create an enterprise of their own having value.

So, you will observe that this government has actually eliminated all taxes on handicrafts, on the small cottage industry, on Kota stone manufacturers, people who make murtis you know the stone idols or clay idols, I know this because my wife just bought for our pujas राम, लक्ष्मण, सीता और हनुमान का वह जो राम दरबार होता है she just bought that and she actually came home and pleasantly when she told me the price and she said I asked him के GST, he said zero.

I really felt very happy that Mr. Modi and Mr. Jaitley have encouraged this kind of Industry where the common man, the small artisan gets encourage to develop his business and become an entrepreneur on his own. So, that’s the thinking of this government. When we encourage solar power or we encourage decentralize electricity generation in the country do you realize we provide at least 15 to 20 times the number of jobs that an NTPC thermal power plant would have provided for the same capacity and if you look at the output of power generation maybe the job generation will be 30X.

So, our whole focus is to get everybody across the country looking at staying where he is and empowering him to start his own business, start his own enterprise and from there flourish to become a self-reliant, self-sufficient citizen of this country, not dependent on government for all the rest of their lives and as you may recall Prime Minister Modi’s comments in Parliament on MGNREGA that yes we are forced to continue with MGNREGA for some more time but that’s because we have left behind a nation or we have inherited a nation where you have not provided enough opportunities for people to become self-sufficient.

And our focus is to empower every citizen in this country be he in any part of the country to become a person who can make a livelihood of his own. After all when we talk of doubling farmers’ income, when we talk of taking solar energy across India in every farm through a scheme which we are going to launch shortly, when we talk of encouraging people to take MUDRA loans and develop their small businesses, when we have taken telecom to the remotest corners of the India, when I plan to take WI-FI into 6000 stations all across the country so that all the villagers around in that neighbourhood can come to the railway station and enjoy Wi-Fi faster than the fastest in the country, I won’t take the name नहीं तो एक और आपके सुबह के सेशन की तरह मुझे allegation आएगा कि हम कम्पीट कर रहे हैं.

But the point is that what we are trying to offer the people is service at the lowest cost and in the railway stations, of course, Wi-Fi is free at 40 mbps which is the fastest speed you can get in the country and I do hope to see more villagers and more youngsters in the villages getting connected to the rest of the world so that they also become people who aspire for a better and better future for the country.

Q: Okay, I am going to just ask you one question on the economy, one because of your background and two because you managed that portfolio for some bit of time. There is a sense that your government is losing the economic narrative in terms of where the rupee is and although the stock markets aren’t really a reflection of economy in terms of what is happening in the stock market, in terms of oil prices which again I understand aren’t largely a global thing. But these were all factors that were playing out in 2013 when you were in the opposition and just like any opposition should you took good advantage of that and now I think as they say the shoe is on the other foot so the other side is taking the same sort of shots at you. So, do you think you have lost the economic narrative a little bit?

A: Well absolutely not, in fact, the people of India are very smart. The people of India are always watchful of what a government does when the times are good and what does a government do when the times are bad. Go back into history a little bit, when Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee inherited the economy way back in 98 it was the economy which had double-digit inflation, very low foreign reserves, high interest costs and high fiscal deficits, high current account deficits, he grappled with that story and it took some time because we had the nuclear Pokhran test then there was a little bit of a period where we had sanctions on us then there was a crisis in around 2000-2001 with the dot-com bust.

So, really Prime Minister Vajpayee got a very short window in which 2003-04 we saw the economy turn, interest rates came down very significantly, we saw fiscal deficit under control, current account became a surplus but the window was very short that he was able to present to the world in terms of economic betterment of the nation. But he was able to leave behind for the next government an absolutely strong base.

We had current account surplus, foreign exchange reserves had gone up from 29 billion in 98 to 103 billion dollars at that point of time very significant growth in 2004, interest rates were down to the lowest ever in a long time, the bank rate was probably 5.5 or plus-minus 25 basis points, inflation was down to 4%, growth was up to 8%. So, you had a robust economy. That’s the type of time when the country should have invested heavily in building up reserves and building up a strong base for the country.

Sadly between 04 and 09 let’s say 04 and 08 the government did not use that opportunity to strengthen its arms, to strengthen its reserves and when in 2008 the world faced a crisis, India almost collapsed simultaneously with the Lehman disaster. You saw the fiscal deficit within a year against a budgeted 2.5% becomes 6.4%, within a year. I have never in my life 50 years of my life let’s say at least 35 years of working life ever seen a year and a miss management of the economy as bad as 2008 and 09, when fiscal deficit was allowed to slide to 6.5.

That’s the period concurrently they started giving out bank loans indiscriminately between 08 and 14 just to pump prime the economy without any concern for what future they were leaving behind, how they were eating into the vitals of the economy. You saw after that interest rates spike, you saw inflation spike, you saw fiscal deficit never really coming under control, we inherited 4.5 or 4.9% or there about Shaktikant ji will remember the exact figure, we had high current account deficit when we came in. So, on every economic parameter we got an economy in shambles.

What did Prime Minister Modi do, he focused both on the macro and on the micro. On the macro he strengthened the economy consistently year-on-year. Prime Minister Modi and Finance minister Mr. Jaitley have successfully steered the economy for four years in building up a solid foundation where we have strong foreign exchange reserves, where we have been able to keep inflation under control at points of time CPI was down below zero, it is not a great situation but that was a super achievement from double-digit to 1% or so when Shaktikant ji was the finance secretary.

I think in a manner of speaking four years we have strengthened the economy. Every macro and micro parameter is better. We have recognized all the mess that we inherited, brought that out to fore. It’s like going to a doctor and not knowing what disease you have, what is your problem. The banking sector was a mess but we were hiding it under the carpet. All stress of the banking sector was known to at least this room assembled here.

We all knew whatever greening was happening. We all knew how restructuring and repeated restructuring was only postponing the problem. We all knew there were assets which could never service the debt, it was an unsustainable situation. We all knew how a loan was converted to a 25 year bond back ended where whose true value was only 3% or 5% but on the face of it, it was not recognized for the irregularity that was existing.

I think we have today an economy which is able to withstand the current international pressures. You are right we have a situation like 13. The dollar is getting strengthened because of the quantitative easing in the US. They are sucking out 10 billion dollars and now it’s going to be 40 or 50 billion dollars every year, Fed rates have gone up like crazy, oil prices are shooting up consistently despite that have you realized that in 2013 the rupee-dollar was at Rs 68.86, 2013 mind you Sukumar, we are in 2018 five years later if the dollar is at 73.5 effectively in five years the rupee has depreciated less than five rupees which on 68.86 is about 7%.

This to my mind in five years is the best period India has seen where the rupee has only deprecated by 7% in a five-year period. What happened between 13 and 14 is an FCNR(B) bond was introduced. 34 billion dollars were raised. The rupee drastically improved from 68.86 to at one point of time 59 rupees. We inherited it at about 63-64. We have now repaid that entire 34 billion dollars between 16 and 17, with interest we have repaired that. And yet we have been able to manage the currency, keep it strong and we have just 7% deposition in five years on a CAGR it would come to barely 1.1 or 1.2% CAGR deprivation in five years.

I challenge anybody here to show me any period in Indian history where we have had such a golden run on the rupee-dollar as since you raised that issue. I don’t know if M.K is unhappy about it or happy about it. And if there is any flaw in any of my comments please do give me a call I’ll come right back.

Q: I am going to move on to a little bit of politics. This morning the first session in the morning we had the Congress President and one of the most interesting things he said was the Congress is about the imagination of 1.3 billion Indians and the BJP just has one imagination, its own, right and it wants all of them to have its imagination. His exact quote was “Congress is about 1.3 billion imaginations, the government wants India to have just one imagination, its own”.

A: I know for the last I mean more than 48 years almost out of independent India’s 70 year history we have had one family rule this country. Congress has ruled it almost for about six out of the seven decades of independent India. Yes, it was about the imagination of 1.3 billion people who had thought that the promises they had made of Garibi Hatao they will fulfill. Certainly it was the imagination of a billion plus people that they will give them a better quality of life.

It was the imagination of a billion plus people that probably they will not have to take the ladies will not have to take 400 cigarettes equivalent smoke while they are preparing a meal for their children. I am sure millions and millions and millions of Indians had the imagination that their children will get good healthcare, their parents will get good healthcare. I am sure 1.3 billion Indians desired in their heart of hearts that they will not have to wait for maybe hundred years to get an electricity connection in their home.

Yes, it was the about the imagination of 1.3 billion Indians that he is talking about but unfortunately वह शेख चिल्ली की तरह इमेजिनेशन ही रह गया है, कुछ इम्प्लीमेंट कुछ हुआ नहीं। हम लोग शेख चिल्ली में विश्वास नहीं करते हैं। We don’t believe in imagining things which are just going to remain imagination but not get actionated on the ground.

After all why is it that 300 million people did not have access to electricity in this country after 48 years of that family’s rule or was it a deliberate design like a leader in Bihar had that keep them deprived of all the basic amenities of life, keep them poor so that they continue to imagine a better future but never get that better future. I wonder what the reality is!

We have ensured and Saubhagya is a scheme which I am proud Prime Minister Modi has brought to India where in the next six months every single willing consumer, every single home will have electricity in their house. We are planning for a country where every citizen will have a shelter on his head with 24×7 electricity, with a toilet, with clean drinking water, quality healthcare for his children, for his parents, good quality education where we are taking Digital India to the remotest parts of India, connecting India through a network of road, rail, airways as Prime Minister says हवाई चप्पल पहनने वाला भी आज हवाईजहाज़ में घूमता है 2500 रुपये में.

My driver now travels by air when he goes to his home town because he says it’s much cheaper, it’s faster and I am able to come back to work at the right day and yet spends more time with my family. Now these may sound irrelevant to an audience in which only 10% people have travelled in a train but if there are only three accidents in six months as against 118 in twelve months in such a short span of time due to unmanned level crossings, I think I am reaching out to that poor man and his imagination that he will get a safe travel to the city or to his hometown.

When I am providing 8.25 crore toilets in the homes of the poor in India, for us it maybe a thing we take for granted but for that person it’s a big deal. When I am providing Ayushman Bharat 50 crore citizens of this country free healthcare, I believe it’s about giving dignity to that person. It’s about giving an opportunity that he doesn’t get into debt trying to cure a child or a father or a mother or a grandfather and then for the rest of his life live like a bonded labourer repaying the debt that he may have taken for a family member’s health care.

When I am creating skills amongst the people of India, I think I don’t know whether it is the imagination of one individual or I think it’s the imagination that we would all love to adopt where we are looking at a new India which is actually taking all these programs to the last man at the bottom of the pyramid which Pandit Deendayal Upadhyay left behind as the political ideology of the Bharatiya Jan Sangh and now the Bharatiya Janta Party.

To my mind what Prime Minister Modi wrote on 2nd October on Mahatma Gandhi Ji’s birthday, we have started the 150 birth anniversary celebrations, if any of you have read his edit page on many papers, on many websites, Hindustan Times as well, I think what he wrote in that that Mahatma Gandhi had articulated his world vision in 1941 ‘the construction constructive agenda’ as he called it which he fine tuned in 1945.

I dare say and I would like Hindustan Times to actually research and see if any other leader in independent India, I don’t even want you to worry wasting your time on those 48 years because you will find abysmal performance at that time but if any other leader including anybody from that family has even done half the programs that Mahatma Gandhi had suggested the country should take up in the constructive agenda of 1945 which can compare to the work of Prime Minister Modi and his government towards making India the India of Mahatma Gandhi’s dreams, we have no problem in acknowledging.

We are working on the imagination of one individual and that individual is Mahatma Gandhi’s vision of India कि Congress should wind up shop, make India Congress-mukt on the one hand and make India poverty free on the other hand.

My friend 2019 and I am not being arrogant about it, I remember one sentence that Piyush Pandey had told me when we were preparing for the 2014 election यह जनता है जो सब जानती है, है न ऐसा एक डायलॉग है. I think the people of India knows who brought them electricity in their home, who made India power surplus, who brought transparency and honesty in India, who ensured that the natural resources of this country are not given out to friends and family and members of a political party but on a fair and equitable basis are available for everybody to participate in a transparent auction and win through a bidding process, who brought toilets to their homes, who brought a Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana in which you can get a six lakh rupee loan.

And most parts of India may not be Mumbai, Delhi, most parts in India in 7-8 lakh rupees you can get a decent home with a toilet, with electricity, with water, taking a six lakh rupee loan from a bank in which you will get 6.5% interest subvention for 20 years, 6.5% interest subvention for 20 years for a six lakh rupee housing loan under Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana where we want to see every citizen of India own his own house.

These are not small achievements. These are not small programs. These are not small goals. These are an aspirational 1.3 billion India whom we are trying to serve and they jolly well know who is working day and night relentlessly without leave, I have got only three days leave in the 4.5 years when my son graduated. That’s the kind of India we want to create and we have the confidence that the people of India know what’s good for them.

BJP will come back with 300+ seats and the NDA will get a two third majority in the next election. I am making that production at the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit. You can judge me for my leadership qualities in May 2019 after that.

Q: In Maharashtra and I am asking you this because it’s your state, you are from Mumbai, you know almost all the people involved in the question I am asking. The BJP seems to be having some issues with its long-term ally the Shiv Sena. What do you think will happen in 2019?

A: Sukumar is at its politest best today, isn’t he. I am a happily married man. What happens in a marriage. I think we should always be willing and happy to take some criticism on the chin. I think we should be happy and willing to argue on a few things and I think we should be willing and able to have a partnership with an ally as long as the understanding at the top is understood, is good, we don’t have any ruffling at the leadership level.

I think it’s more a little bit of grandstanding which often comes to the fore and it’s certainly very painful just like you had in your morning session a person very pained by the situation that the nation has brought him to. In a similar fashion in Maharashtra today the BJP is the numero uno party. We have overtaken everybody else in terms of popularity. Devendra Fadnavis is far up there in terms of local leadership compared to any other local leader.

Now these equations have changed very rapidly since Prime Minister Modi took charge of situation. I mean between 13-14 and now things are only getting better for the BJP in Maharashtra. So, we will certainly have a little hiccups here and there but I can assure you we are winning 42 to 44 seats in Maharashtra in the next election in the Lok Sabha and the Assembly I can assure you will be a clean sweep. I think in partnership.

Q: Thank you, you have given us lots of numbers to play around with. Okay, I am going to move to some audience questions and I will obviously skip questions about people who had bad experiences on Indian Railways, right.

A: Certainly we should not skip that, you should take that because it’s just like Mr. Modi said मैं गाजा बाजा से बार-बार सुनाऊंगा मनरेगा को इम्प्लीमेंट करते हुए कि यह दुर्दशा आपके 60 साल, 65 साल और 48 ईयर ऑफ़ गांधी फ़ैमिली मिस रूल की वजह से है. Same way मैं समझता हूँ इस कमरे में  I think everybody in this room will appreciate we have got 4.5 years, this is a 160 years old organization, we have had 65 years of independent India before us, tell me when it has been better than today ever before.

I am happy to take questions which are about bad experiences but obviously you will have bad experiences. It’s a process. I cannot switch on a switch or do a magic wand and say hey lo and behold from tomorrow all trains are perfect, punctuality is great 100%, trains are clean, catering is perfect. I have been trying to cancel catering contracts, they go to court, they get relief, I am stuck both ways, no action can be taken and I have to wait.

Today I was talking to the chairman what do I do get some of these damn contractors out. He said sir the moment we take them out, court gives them relief. Better we let the time pass, once they are out we will have very strict technical conditions and qualification criteria, get the best contractors in. So, it’s a process. I acknowledge it’s not going to be perfect tomorrow but that’s where an intelligent Indian audience understands what is happening and what is good for them.

Q: Five questions on toilets. I have one word at stench?

A: Yes, absolutely it’s a good question. Let me explain it to you. I am sure you are aware we have introduced bio toilets in the Indian Railways. Now earlier all the muck in the toilet used to just go down on the track, I am sure you all are aware of it. Certainly bio toilets were introduced before we came in but at petty numbers, small numbers. After Prime Minister Modi came in we just aggressively gone in for bio toilets. We have now I think out of 55 odd thousand coaches bio toilets are already installed in about 38,000 and in another 12 to 15 months 100% trains will have bio toilets.

Do you know what that means, that was open defecation in another form. We would have eliminated open defecation on the Railways. All that muck which was going on the tracks was causing the stench which I hope you will find much less today than ever before. You know what was that causing, uric acid in that was causing a spate of accidents because tracks were getting corroded. Let’s realize what’s happening.

Yes, the bio toilets have one problem of the stench sometimes going back as a reverse stench. Ladies and gentlemen I am trying to educate the people of India we all know that it takes a lot of behavioural change. Now they just put some garbage into that bio toilet, it stops the you know the closure of the valve and therefore there is a reverse stench coming in. You help me, you help me sensitize, can Hindustan Times and Hindustan in Hindi tell the people of India be conscious. I have provided a dustbin in every toilet, don’t put the garbage in, put it in the dustbin and you will never have the stench problem.

Having said that I have already started working on 500 toilets I am experimenting with vacuum just like the aircrafts have. It’s going to be expensive but I have said no I will do it. I have about 250,000 toilets which will mean I have to invest nearly 10,000 crore to put vacuum into all of these toilets but I am still planning to do that and I am hoping that with economies of scale I will bring down that cost. But I am still working on that that I will put a vacuum, behavioural change आते-आते शायद समय लगेगा तो चलो alternates में देखते हैं .

So, this is I am very conscious of these things but if I sit idle और मैं शेख चिल्ली की तरह इमैजिन करते रहूं यह चली जानी चाहिए  stench then you should blame me but when I act I think the people appreciate me.

Q: And we would be happy to partner with you to educate the people as you said. Final question when was the last time you took a train journey?

A: I regularly take a train journey. In fact, when I started my journey as a Railway Minister my first journey was to Shri Mahavir Ji, it’s a Jain temple town where I have been going for over 30 years. My mother was a Jain. And I think it gives me a lot of spiritual awakening when I see the clean environments of the temple, not of the area outside the temple though, we are planning to work on that also.

But if any of you have noticed you go to any religion, you go to a church, go to a Jain temple, go to a Hindu temple, go to a mosque, go to a Jewish prayer synagogue, they are all so clean, they all are so serene, they all are so beautiful. That’s the kind of country we all want to make.
And to my mind for each one of us it’s a part of our national duty that while there is a lot to criticize, there is a lot to complain about let’s also pick out what’s happening in the country, let’s also see how we can contribute to making it happen better.

I mean after all when we came in here we saw this beautifully organized program clean. Nobody is going to put a paan stench over here or throw some garbage here, right. What is Prime Minister Modi trying to do, create a country like this, it’s just neat and clean so that everybody’s behaviour changes accordingly. Same way to my mind we should all start travelling in trains right to be your experience, right to be what’s wrong and I promise you even when I get a message.

I have been woken up at 4 o’clock in the night, I have been woken up in a hospital bed where I was sleeping on my seventh day after being the Rail Minister, my mother was admitted, I have been woken up by a very senior congress leader while I was sleeping in All Indian Institute Of Medical Science where my mother was admitted at 2 o’clock with a problem which we resolved at 2 o’clock in the night.

So, we are a responsive government working 24 hours to serve all of you. Please travel in a train right to be experience, let it be good bad or ugly I am happy to take all of that but it will help me do my job better. So, please give me your constructive criticism. Please give me your ideas. I am sure this room alone could give me enough ideas to keep me busy for the next 6-7 years.

Thank you very much.

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