Thank you and a very warm good morning to all of you. I was held up in an early morning breakfast meeting on subjects which would otherwise be of interest to you, but I cannot share them with you, and my apologies for being a little late. I was just sharing that I would have been probably one of those who is a permanent fixture at this CLSA annual event. 2013 was the first year when I came in here and he remembers that I have not come once, but I thought I had come almost every year, or at least it seems like that.
I must also before I go further give a caveat that I am grateful to CLSA for actually always highlighting ahead of the others several issues that are very useful for policymakers in India.And I must acknowledge that role I very often drop on your India team, your analysts to help me with data, to help me navigate certain economic issues or financial issues, which sometimes are beyond my own comprehension also. So, thank you very much for that.
Of course, you have been reading in the newspapers a lot of things about, or concerns at least, about various issues that I was told as I walked in here that I need to bring back the enthusiasm or the feel good that was there in 2013-14. So, I was a little surprised and I’ll try to give you a little perspective of what the thinking of the government is and where I think the nation today stands.
I remember in 2013 when somewhere in November only I had made the prediction that Prime Minister Modi will come into government with an absolute majority. There were more disbelievers in the room than people who would have agreed with me. Before I go further, today, let me make another prediction, and I don’t say it out of any arrogance of being in government, I don’t say it as just trying to be boisterous about it or trying to show any sense of confidence only, but I say it based on hard data, facts and surveys that we are continuously having.
I remember when we met in November ‘13 also, I had just completed a survey, which at that point of time was the largest survey ever conducted in the world. It was about 230,000 respondents who were physically approached for a half an hour interview through a random process from the electoral rolls. This time around, this survey has over 540,000 respondents – 540,000 respondents.And the survey is not something that the Bharatiya Janata Party or our government has commissioned or goes to the people and says that we are from the BJP and we want to ask you questions, which would obviously completely shatter any confidence in that survey.
It’s a third-party independent survey done by very credible pollsters whose track record has been consistently almost accurate with a 98-99% accuracy within that 3% error of judgement that they normally have. And I have absolutely no hesitation in sharing, I cannot share the minute or the details, but no hesitation in sharing that this time around, Prime Minister Modi will be re-elected with at least 300 seats of the BJP alone and a possible two-third majority of the NDA as a whole. That’s the kind of findings that come out of an on-the-ground survey.
And I was just saying that very often all of us who are in the cities looking at the figures, looking at the macro, looking at what comes to our attention in our offices, in five-star hotels is very different from the situation on the ground. While we are focused more on inflation numbers, fiscal deficit and all of those financial terminologies and in fact, on those cores if one was to go I think we should get more than 300 seats, because what this government has managed to achieve in four, four and half years on all of these numbers, on all of these indicators is phenomenal results. But the concerns that you all have about whether the people on the ground have really benefited from these policies comes out when you read the reports out of these surveys.
And I think what is relevant for us here is starkly different from what we find is relevant to the man on the last mile, at the village level, the smaller units, maybe even within the city, the lower units in the slums, in the middle-class housing colonies.
And I will share four or five things which I think have made a significant difference to the mood at the bottom of the pyramid. One and very clearly this came across throughout the country, even in the south, states like Tamil Nadu where we would otherwise not have had a presence is the trust factor in Prime Minister Modi. There is a huge trust factor and there is a huge trust deficiency on the other side, both equations matter and that came across as numbers which are mind-boggling even to a person who is himself a part of the team that works for Mr. Modi.
The trust factor in Prime Minister Modi, in his intention, in his commitment to the nation, to national security, to national well-being, his commitment to the poor of the country, that trust of the people has only grown but not diminished. So, even if false acquisitions or false news are sought to be portrayed, it doesn’t resonate with the man on the ground and I think that was a very, very-very interesting outcome of our own studies across the country.
Another thing is the actual delivery of benefits to the common man. What has happened in the last four, four and a half years in a very systematic manner in terms of the delivery of various programmes of the Government of India is again something which they have not experienced in 65 years before this government came in, post-independence.
I can list out probably 30-40 such issues, but if I was to take three or four very important issues whilst many of you may not give credence or importance to swacchata, which is the Clean India Campaign, you will be amazed at the response we got even in villages, even in the slums of the cities to the cleanliness campaign. It actually resonates in the people at amongst the most important things that they feel have happened and that cleanliness impacts their life, impacts their well-being, impacts their families, is understood by a poor man, probably more than some of us.
So, if he finds a clean railway station, if he finds that there is a consciousness about removing garbage from the streets, when he finds that there is a serious effort to improve the cleanliness levels even in smaller cities, which were earlier totally neglected, when he finds that open defecation is not happening on the streets or in the outskirts of villages, the man is profoundly impacted and that’s one of the things that even surprised me to be honest.
I was myself amazed that Prime Minister Modi could actually sense that this is something which will impact the people and probably that comes from the fact that most of us in this room, me included, have not really lived in that kind of poverty.We have not experienced that kind of personal experiences of what living in a village, living in a small shanty without electricity, cooking on a stove with wood or coal and taking all those fumes in, we have not experienced what kind of life that is.
Possibly, his own experiences helped him understand that getting electricity to every home will have a huge impact in the future of that child, in the future of that family. Getting the woman out of cooking on those old stoves and giving her a gas connection is hugely important for that lady in the village.
The fact that they can get a loan of maybe $10,000, $5000, a $1000 or even $500 from a bank without collateral, without too much of a tedious system is important for that poor person, who has otherwise got to go to a money lender even for a small amount like a 1000, 2000 dollars and then paying usurious rates of interest 3%-4% per month, and almost converting your family into a bonded labour for the rest of your life is something that was a matter of angst for the poor man. So, a Mudra loan scheme, very early on when this government comes in, and now nearly 130 million beneficiaries of that scheme is hugely important for this country.
The fact that healthcare could actually drive families to destitution is something at least many Indians in the room would have heard of instances of that. I mean your own domestic help if they get into any kind of a problem and they need medical help and should you not support that domestic help. That man and his family are doomed to depravity, poverty and almost will kill any hopes of education for their children, kill any hopes of better quality of life for their children.
And I can go on and on about the various things, and which is where the healthcare programme, don’t compare it with the Obama Care in the US, it was hugely different. Obama Care had angles of insurance being paid for and there were several factors which are not relevant in the Indian context. This is a completely government funded, 100% free healthcare of upto about $8000 -$7000 or $8000, being paid for by the government for a variety of illnesses.
And different estimates suggest that between 2 to 3% of India’s population every year was driven into poverty, (of course, there are some estimates which even talk of 6%, but I am going by the most conservative figure that I could find) go into extreme poverty because of a healthcare issue in the family. And frankly, it’s not only the poor, it’s the middle-class, probably the middle-class more than the poor, because the poor very often had no choice.The middle-class at least had a choice, so he would probably mortgage his house, mortgage his wife’s jewels, would borrow from friends and relatives and then get into poverty.
So, it was an angst not only of the poor, but even more of the middle class who thought that he could save a family member. Very often the poor would probably blame it on his destiny. And I can keep going on and on, probably till you serve me dinner in the evening, but each of these small interventions has had a profound impact on the last man at the bottom of the pyramid. I mean when that person, very often now there is a debate on demonetisation.
I am in fact grateful to Mr. Chris Wood and CLSA for having understood very early on that demonetisation is not a one-off measure, it’s in a series of measures. A short-term cost well recognised but huge impact in the long run in a nation trying to change its image from a nation where there was a cost for every action and at a price everything was possible, evolving itself into an honest nation where there is a premium on honesty, and I have shared this view in an earlier interaction with all of you.
I have shared my views about how all of these various programmes of the government, including bringing in GST, demonetisation, the Benami properties illegal or properties held in third parties names by individuals in India, the opportunity for people to declare their illegal wealth so that after that you will be penalised heavily – all of these and then the various schemes for healthcare, for electricity, for cooking gas, free cooking gas connections, for bank accounts, the Aadhar, the Social Security number that you have, the different insurance schemes that we have introduced, all of these are like beads in a necklace.Well thought out programmes which will have a holistic and comprehensive impact in the lives of the poor of India.
And as the ideologue of my party Pandit Deen Dayal Upadhyay had articulated 53 years ago, somewhere around the year of my birth, that our party, earlier Jan Sangh and now the Bharatiya Janata Party, will ensure that the poorest of the poor have a first right, or in your terminology an ROFR, on the nation’s natural resources.The nation’s money, wealth will go to serve the poorest of the poor first, bring up his quality of life so that we can see more equitable – not in a socialistic pattern but from a human angle, a more equitable opportunity for every child born in India to be a good citizen, to live and work in an honest country, to have the basic amenities of life taken care of.
The Prime Minister’s affordable housing program by which by 2022 we want to ensure that every citizen has shelter on his head, a home that he can probably call his own with 24×7 electricity, clean drinking water, a toilet – a basic thing like a toilet not available for 2/3rd the people of the country. Sanitation levels were 34% or 38% when this government came in (38%), today over 93%. Look at the dramatic shift towards having a toilet that’s basic dignity of our citizens that we are talking of.
Can you imagine if your mothers and sisters and daughters could not go to use the restroom for all the sunlight hours and would have to wait for dusk before they can go and defecate in the open and would have to get up at five or four in the morning so that they are able to do an act of nature before the sun rises. And these are the things which I think have had a huge impact on the people of India.
I understand that when they get a toilet, when they get electricity in their home, when they have a shelter on their head, when digital technologies reach the remotest corners of the country, they have a bank account, financial inclusion – all of these recognised by the world as a part of first the millennium development goals,unfortunately it didn’t succeed. 2015 – the sustainable development goals, setting a target of 2030 now, which India decided we will not wait till 2030 to give a better quality of life to our people. We will meet these goals and as many of these goals as we can well in advance of the target that the world has set and that to my mind summarises the effort and the outreach of this government.
Concurrently, of course, the macro has been improved, fiscal deficits are down, we will achieve 3.3% fiscal deficit as the DEA secretary said without any transfer of funds from the RBI. Of course, I can give you a whole explanation of what the results of the RBI are for and what was the levels that were decided by earlier RBI committees and all that detail we can discuss but I think that’s less important to us today than ensuring that every citizen of this country gets a better quality of life.
We will ensure the macroeconomic parameters remain strong, the health of the banking sector is uppermost in this government’s mind and it’s a commitment that this government has to the public sector banks. Every public sector bank is the responsibility of this government and we stand committed to ensure that they all work well, they are governed well, they will serve the people well and they’re playing a hugely important role in making sure that the benefits of growth and development reach the last man in the remotest part of India.
No private sector bank, no foreign bank is ever going to help the government reach a loan under Mudra to a man living in the Himalayas or in a remote village where there are Naxals or Maoists controlling the forests in Jharkhand or Chhattisgarh, but our state bank officer will risk his life and go there to give a better life for his fellow citizen.
And towards that end, every public bank has 100% government backing. We will back it to the hilt.We will ensure their management does a good job.We will ensure that the kind of loans they gave prior to 2014, which we are now suffering the consequences of, I mean you all actually complain that credit growth is not good enough, which clearly validates that none of these bad loans were given in our government’s period. Zero interference in the working of banks, complete autonomy to do an honest day’s job, but all of this also has to be weaved into a complete holistic narrative and we are working towards that.
Inflation is down to sub-4%.Over the period of a government, I don’t think there has been a government in the history of India which has had five years in which they have managed to keep inflation down. It’s a subject which always was an election issue, always the women, the people in India used to be complaining about inflation. It’s history in India, four and half years consistently low inflation at times worrisome for economists, such low inflation.
You have the debt under control, I mean compared to most countries even US or even the China, Japan, all of them, our debt to the GDP ratio is amongst the most attractive. We are conscious and cautious about building up large amounts of foreign debt. Our debt is largely funded through our internal savings. Debt taken in these four years has been less than the amounts invested on capital or infrastructure growth which is also a good sign. Earlier debt was going to fund deficits, now debt is going to build infrastructure which is also a good news for the country.
So, a variety of the effort to improve the economy as such has given us a variety of good results, but to my mind what is even more important is the huge impact on the life of the common man of India and that is what will get Prime Minister Modi re-elected with a majority larger than 2014 and I am looking forward to meeting all of you in November 2019 to celebrate that victory.
Question and Answer
Q: Thank you very much Mr. Goyal for a very sort of, you know, a good overview of all the government policies and as you rightly mentioned the government’s initiative on improving the life at the bottom of the pyramid is very-very visible. Also you mentioned few things about inflation containment I mean clearly this government has an excellent track record which I clearly agree no other government would have had in India.
Sir, from a policymaker’s perspective just one question that comes to my mind is that while we have really been able to contain inflation that’s really the target, but then on the other hand, it also means that the food inflation remains low which is good for the consumers, but obviously it’s not so good for the producers, and there the government is clearly committed to double the farmers’ income. So, how do you kind of triangulate the two?
A: Yeah, absolutely logical efforts of the government. First of all, we believe that just increasing food prices and concurrently increasing inflation in the economy as such is no good for the agriculture, it’s because artificially he may feel he is getting more money but he is spending that much more on his day-to-day necessities. So, it really is a zero-sum game. On the contrary, what did we do?We kept all his input costs under control, so we kept inflation down for him also for all his input costs, be it on the farm or for his living expenses. Second, we ensured that his education levels, the soil quality for example, we have given almost all the farmers in the country a soil health card so he can start planning for better produce in his farms, he can look at better productivity in his farms.
We are looking at increasing the irrigated land and reduce the dependence on the rainfall. Take the example of Maharashtra and other states, I can give you details of all the various states, which used to be perennially having water problems going in for a project called Jalyukt Shivar, in which Maharashtra by 2019 end would ensure that across the state of Maharashtra even if there was rainfall for only two days there would be enough water conserved for the rest of the year. So, you will almost make Maharashtra drought-free in another 15 to 18 months from now. Maharashtra will be drought-free through a program called Jalyukt Shivar where they are creating small ponds and rejuvenating the water bodies of old so that we don’t remain a rain dependent agricultural economy.
Like that various initiatives to ensure that the farmers’ cost of production is kept low, simultaneously accepting Dr MS Swaminathan’s formula of giving him one and a half times the cost of production so that he gets a better value for his produce, and should there be a market glut or if the market prices are down building up larger buffer stocks by the government during that period, investing heavily in cold storages and storage facilities for agricultural produce to insulate ourselves for any future shortfall in production and rising prices.
So, this government’s plans are never short-term, they are always again, (a) comprehensive, (b) more long-term in nature to ensure that systematically we increase the income, it’s not something that can happen overnight, it happens over a period of time.
And then in the states wherever we found there was any stress due to circumstances, like we came into government in Uttar Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh had had three drought years out of four before our government came in in Uttar Pradesh. We had to give them a loan waiver. We gave them some probably 40 or 50 thousand crores of loan waiver, because otherwise there were those loans being dud loans in any case were not helping the banks any and secondly they were not allowing these farmers to raise a fresh loan for the next year’s crop. So, even if there was a good rainfall, which it was last year, they would still not have been able to really reap the benefits of good rainfall for lack of money to invest in seeds and other inputs.
But I must share with you the difference between a loan waiver done in the UPA and by the Government of Uttar Pradesh or by the Government of Maharashtra, who had a similar situation of 3 out of 4 bad years, draught years. In both cases, we paid that money after announcing it within that year.What the UPA did in 2008 (the Congress Party) they announced a loan waiver in 2008 sought to reap some political benefit of it in the 2009 election, but hadn’t paid the banks a single penny, not one dollar of that loan was paid to the banks until May of 2019. They made the banks waive off the loan and hold it in their books and its 2009 and only after the elections got over, in three years after that,2009-10, ‘10-11 and ‘11-12, in three instalments I think they paid the banks the amount of the loan waiver.
So, just wanted to set the context that artificially they gave a benefit, kept the macro looking reasonably good, though I think they failed to do that also in 2009, but pushed the burden for the future, and that’s where you saw the whole economy then collapsing after 2009-10. When we came into government in 2014, we inherited so much of liability of the past, you know the oil bonds, nearly 20 billion-plus of oil, 22-23 billion dollars of oil bonds which were left for us to service and repay, which we are doing diligently over the four years. Commitments made to state for reimbursing the central sales tax, nearly 7 billion dollars of that were paid by us after we came in.And I can keep continuing to list out many of such payments that we have made but relating to the past.
Q: Are there questions from the audience or let me just throw in one more of my own which is the other very important. So, till the time people are just making up their mind, let me just ask an important question on the jobs. So, yesterday we had Mr. Manish Sabharwal of TeamLease and he rightly mentioned that there is no problem of jobs as such in India. We are producing like 7-8 million jobs a year that is needed, but what we really need is a better skilled job, a better trained job and what we really need to do is to really improve the farmers’ income, to get the farmers out of farming and train them and make them sort of suitable to take up something which is much more sort of value add. So, can you just sort of talk about the government initiatives?
A: See first of all, one must understand the nature of jobs in the whole world is changing. Gone are the days where you would set up large steel plants and large power plants and give an organised sector job and say yes, the guy’s got a job, and that’s the kind of data problem that we have that our data compiles only these kind of formal jobs.
I think the nature of jobs are changing to such a large extent that if I take a cue from the power sector, earlier when I would produce power in a thermal coal plant I would probably give 4-5 thousand people a job and produce a 1000 MW of power. Now that same quantity of power if I produce through renewable energy, in which India is now today a world leader (we are giving one of the greatest trust to clean energy, no other country in the world has as ambitious a program as ours), we will give nearly 10 times the number of people a job but none of them will get a feeling that we have a job in National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) or in Coal India, but 10 times the number of people will get gainful work generating the same amount of power.
So, I think the nature…. artificial intelligence coming in, 3-D manufacturing coming in and going beyond that also.So now the nature of jobs worldwide is changing, so they will change in India. We will have more and more of formal jobs being moved into entrepreneurship, into distributed production units across the country, smaller units generating more jobs. So, I think that’s an evolution that the world is going through and India will be a part of that but I agree with him, we should improve the skill levels. We now have a separate skill development Ministry and we are working, and this is not something that will happen in one or two or four years, it’s a long drawn process.
Q: Still have 5-6 months to go so any unfinished agenda that you would like to finish in this regime and the things that you would like to build on post 2019. So, in the next government anything that you feel that we could not do this time we are better prepared for?
A: For anybody to think that he has got no unfinished agenda or that he has done all that he should or could is doomsday. So, for us the unfinished agenda is huge, but obviously that’s how it should be.But you always have an unfinished agenda only when the aspirations of the people are high and I often use an analogy and I will share it with you and please don’t use it in a wrong context anywhere, it could be misunderstood.
But even a person asks for arms only from somebody, who he believes can give it to him, right? A person who is asking for some donation will go to somebody who he believes has the money in his pocket to give him a donation. Similarly, the country has huge aspirations from the government of the day, and I think that’s great news. It shows the trust that this government can meet their aspirations, can deliver.
And, I personally believe the more the people aspire for a better future, for a better quality of life, the more it encourages people like me to perform or outperform or to work harder and try to meet those aspirations, because if they trust us it’s only then that they have those aspirations and if they trust us with those aspirations, I think it’s our duty to deliver. So, we have a long list of items we still have to do.
We have been working towards improving Eastern and North-Eastern India. You will see a dramatic shift in the priorities of the government when it comes to equitable development across the country. Earlier governments never bothered about the Northeast, they never bothered about development in Eastern India equivalent to what has happened in west or south. We are trying to get Eastern India, which houses nearly more than 60-65% of India’s population a better quality of life. We have focused development to Northeast India which has a very small population but a strategic importance which far outweighs any other part of India.
So, for us I think getting development to the remotest parts of India, to hitherto underserved parts of India is going to continue to be a priority. We are going to continue to see that our vision of New India by 2022 is completed in time. We are going to work towards a better railway, a better set of airways. We are going to ensure sanitation in every home. We are going to ensure digital technologies in every home, then leverage on digital technologies for better healthcare, better education reaching the poorest of the poor in remote parts of India.
So, it’s a very holistic vision to ensure that your child, my child and a child in a village in Jharkhand or Chhattisgarh or Bihar all get good equal opportunities for becoming better citizens, living in an honest country, being able to make two ends meet without corruption, being able to get good quality of education and compete with the best in the world. That’s the vision that we are working for.
Q: Sir if you look at the food inflation part it is kind of trending at the decadal lows, even after the MSP price have been increased significantly last time. So, the benefit of the Swaminathan Committee’s report of 50% plus cost of production has not yet percolated down to the farmers, it seems from the inflation data, and also from the Mandi prices. So, when do you see that…?
A: But you are assuming that because of MSP inflation should have increased. I believe your basic assumption is only wrong, because MSP after all still sets the bar quite low. Inflation would have gone up significantly if prices were going above MSP, if prices are below MSP and government also procures at MSP I think it’s not going to impact inflation very significantly if at all 5-10 basis points it’s immaterial, we are at sub-4% against a range of 2 to 6%.
Having said that, I think this MSP is also a largely misunderstood thing. First of all, I must give you some statistics which will help you understand how in the past MSP was never giving any benefit to the farmer at all. Take Maharashtra for example, we took out the figures of government procurement in Maharashtra what they had procured over 10 or 15 years of the Congress government in Maharashtra was one-tenth of what Devendra Fadnavis’ BJP-Shiv Sena government in Maharashtra has procured in the last three years.
15 or 10 or 15 years procurement by the Government of Maharashtra was one-tenth of what the BJP government has procured in three years. So, there was an MSP being announced earlier but the benefit never reached the farmer. We are ensuring that the benefit reaches the farmer by increasing the procurement quantities significantly.
Simultaneously, again as I said we think holistically, we are working to ensure how we can increase productivity, we are working to… If you never had a fertiliser shortage in four and a half years, you used to have riots on the highways and streets for lack of fertilisers, you never had it in four and a half years, why?Because we did neem coating and ensured fertiliser goes to the farmer, not to chemical factories which were stealing the right of the farmer.
Those of you in India would probably know that fertiliser was being diverted to chemical factories because of it was highly subsidised and the ammonium sulphate and all of that was being used by chemical factories. Simple solution, we put neem coating, and lo and behold, it’s no more good for the chemical factories, it goes to the farmer.
So, our thinking is very holistic when it comes to giving formers a better deal. The Fasal Bima Yojana, the insurance scheme for the farmers, now ensures 100% payment if he loses his crop, 100%! No other scheme in India before ever gave hundred percent of the loss to the farmers and at a premium which is much lower than any time in the past. So, it’s a very multi-dimensional approach to ensuring a better deal for the farmers.
For example, there was a lot of hue and cry made about a farmer agitation in Maharashtra.You remember that four days on television we saw as if every farmer in Maharashtra is very unhappy, four days there was this farmers walking into Mumbai from the villages. Anyway they came, the Chief Minister had a long meeting them, sorted out all their issues and I talked to the CM, I said maybe it’s a good idea we organise some trains to send them back. He said yeah, if you can organise some trains and help them go back, they walked all the way.It will be a good gesture.
So, I said shall I make five or six trains’ arrangement, each train would carry about 5000 people and the televisions and everybody was kept on screaming 30,000 farmers, 35,000 farmers so I said I’ll make five or six trains’ arrangement. He said no no no, you need to make one train’s arrangement, all of them will fit into one train. I said but Devendra, television is screaming, the visuals are looking very as if it’s a huge thing and I can promise you a good photographer can make a 100 people look like 5000. He said no, make one train arrangement. To be conservative I still made arrangement for three trains. We couldn’t fill up one train, the other two were just wasted effort, not one train got filled up.
Now any point of time, if you have to collect 5, 10, 15, 20, 50 or even a 100 thousand people in India for anybody is not difficult. Everybody has some complaints, everybody has and many may want to come and visit Mumbai and look at the city and I have been in opposition long enough to know the rules of the game quite well. So, and within a few days after that we had elections in Maharashtra in Jalgaon and I think it was Sangli probably, two places which BJP has never in our life won, never. They are strongholds of a community called Marathas, which agitation by the way was also simultaneously going on, right.
So, you had a Maratha agitation which people said is going to take down Fadnavis’ government, we had a farmer agitation which was hyped up in television for lack of an alternative news.If something else had cropped up then probably the news would have changed. And within four or five days or two weeks after that we had elections in Jalgaon-Sangli. We have never won in these two places and we had an absolute majority, we swept the polls in both the places.
So, don’t believe everything you see on English television or the pink papers. All of the English media is read or seen by 1% of India’s population, 1%! I mean no negative comments for the English media but that’s the reality. Even we many of us here in this room who are English speaking while we may watch the English media for some time, we would still go back to other regional media to get more news about what’s happening in our village, in our cities, in our home town, in our state to understand what’s the local news in the region where we stay. So, I look at all the Marathi and Hindi channels to know what’s happening in my city and my state and then look at some of the English Channel to get the big picture of what’s the latest controversy in the country.