January 30, 2019

Speaking at Carnot Prize, in New Delhi

Thank you very much Dr. Birol for those very-very kind words. Thank you professor Mark Allen Hughes for indulging, and I would say more than indulgence for tolerating the fact that I literally reached the Kleinman Center and had to come back without attending the programmes that you had organized through the day that day.

And I am grateful to you, to Miss Lincey, Molly, to Corry, to Bill, the entire team and to you Ma’am for really encouraging the efforts that India has done in the sphere of energy policy by flying down to India and continuing with the celebrations of the Carnot Prize. Thank you very much for bestowing this honour on me. I am really-really grateful to Kleinman Center and grateful to you, Dr. Birol for nominating me and I am extremely grateful to all of you, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, who have joined us on this occasion today.

If one was to look at the history behind the story of electricity, of power, energy access, the fight against climate change, energy efficiency, I would say it has been inspired by the foresight of Mahatma Gandhi, the father of the nation. Mahatma Gandhi had visualised that India lives in its villages and unless we take development, unless we take the fruits of development to those villages, we can never truly have a happy nation, have a nation of progress. And Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi has consistently over the last five years encouraged all his colleagues to focus on the last man at the bottom of the pyramid, when it came to conducting the affairs of our Ministries and affairs of the government.

And I think it is his visionary leadership and the effort of the so many of my colleagues who are in this room today, secretaries who have been with me in this journey over the last four years, particularly, in the energy space, secretaries who have worked for renewable energy, to promote renewable energy, officials from different Ministries whether it is Power, Coal, New and Renewable Energy, Environment, I dare say Finance also, you cannot do any of these things without finance, and the millions of people engaged in the power sector across the country, engaged in the mining sector across the country, the youth of India who recognise the value of clean energy, but for this collective efforts all of my team and the leadership that Prime Minister Modi gave, I suspect this would not have been possible.

And I truly dedicate this award to all of you in this journey, which has taken us from an energy shortage to a power surplus country, this journey where we have led the world in its effort to introduce energy efficiency, particularly through the LED programme, in this journey to provide energy access to every single household in this country in a short span of time, in this journey to keep energy costs affordable for the poor of India, for the middle classes, in this journey to see that India provides leadership to the world’s efforts to tackle the menace of carbon, the fight against emissions, the huge contribution that India is doing in the sphere of climate change is truly testament to the faith that our people have in the environment, the faith that is a part of our tradition, a part of our heritage, a part of our culture which tells us that every element of nature has a role to play and we have to respect every element of nature.

I would like to thank the Kleinman Center for recognising this work because I think this recognition will only encourage more of our colleagues, more of our team and will certainly give the people of India confidence that we are on the right path, the path of climate justice. Because truly, one cannot have a nation where we still had probably at one point of time, barely five years ago, more than 250 million citizens of India without access to energy. We cannot have villages, seven decades after independence, deprived of a basic amenity like power. We cannot have children not connected to the rest of the world for lack of energy access.

And I think this journey of the last four or five years, particularly the fact that very early on in this journey I learned a lot of lessons. I do not know whether it was Sunil from Financial Express or somebody had carried a headline on me just after I had become the Power Minister, probably third or fourth day after I became a Power Minister, and there was a huge thunderstorm in Delhi, which some of you may recall, 29th or 30th of May 2014, and most of the national capital was without power.

I remember the headline read “Baptism by outage,” and that was the story of power in the country. I suspect many of the distinguished friends who have joined us today will recall that none of our homes would have been complete without either a generating set, electricity genset, inverters for our computers or some sort of energy back-up. And the nation has progressed from that period of energy shortages to a period where we are grappling with surplus power and we have a power secretary Mr. Bhalla sitting here, who is most concerned how can we sell more power. And in some sense sometimes I reflect on that journey and I wonder whether I have myself to blame for this problem, because but for the energy efficiency programme which we rolled out in such a big way, possibly another 20-30 of his power plants would have been running very well now, but at what cost to the nation, at what cost to the people of India.

And I dare say the LED programme, and thank you very much Dr. Birol for espousing this cause across the world. I have had an occasion where Power Ministers of different countries, particularly in Europe, have thanked Prime Minister Modi in our bilateral meetings for making LED affordable across the world. And I think the huge scale up of LED bulbs in the country, of street lights across the country helped bring down the prices by nearly 87% in India, and that made this programme probably one of the most economically viable projects that I have ever seen or heard about in my own three decades of business experience.

I was mentioning in an earlier programme this morning, the entire spend of the people of India to buy these LED bulbs and changeover would probably be in the region  of about 2 billion dollars, at best. I suspect it should be much lower. But that 2 billion dollars is saving the consumers and all of you, ladies and gentlemen, at least 7 billion dollars annually in electricity bills. I would not even get into the lumination being much more, into the life of the LED bulb being much longer and all of those other benefits, but a small thing like an LED bulb can transform the energy security and the energy scenario of a country was for me also quite a learning experience.

I recall that day on 5th of January 2015 when Prime Minister Modi launched this programme by changing the bulb himself in the Prime Minister’s office in South Block, and frankly, all of us were full of disbelief. The bulbs those days were costing us almost five, six hundred rupees in the market place. We set out on a mission to make available 770 million LED bulbs in a span of 5 years that was our original target. It was a daunting task and I remember if I may take a small story just to share where the inflexion point of this programme came in.

I had actually gone to make the honourable Prime Minister the report about the coal auctions. We were having auction of coal mines, which this government had perforce had to do in a very short span of time after a huge corruption scandal had resulted in almost 204 coal mines being cancelled and the honourable Supreme Court giving us very little time, barely 6 months to create a new law, a new framework, establish rules of an auction and, actually auction the operating mines within 6 months.

I would say it had never happened before but we did manage to achieve that target. Within 6 months we were able to auction all the mines in the country, which were operating at that point of time. So I had just gone to discuss with the honourable Prime Minister the progress of the auction, and I shared with him that this is my timetable going forward, and broadly I said in 90 days I should be able to auction these mines. He casually asked me why should it take you 90 days.

I gave him a big spin about the levels of control and integrity and the process and the fine tuning of the process and absolute transparency. In fact, I even ventured to suggest to him, Sir even if you want me to help somebody I will not be able to help. And after we had finished the review of the coal mine auction, just as I was about to leave his home, early morning, he says how many bulbs have you sold so far? I don’t know. I thought selling LED bulbs was not the Power Minister’s prime responsibility in any case. I said, ‘I will check up and get back to you.’ He said ‘sit down’.

I thought I was the management student, 30 years in industry, I knew all the good principles of running corporations. He said, ‘Piyush, programmes like these do not achieve success unless you monitor it regularly, and only when you monitor it you will be able to hold people accountable.’ And I remember coming back to office that day, some of my colleagues of that time are in this room. We prepared a mobile app in 7 days. Through that mobile app we had the entire LED programme available to the people of India on their mobiles. Every aspect of that project, of that programme is on that mobile.

Over a period it, of course, was refined several times to the extent that right now, if somebody was to open that app, the Ujala app, will be able to find out in every district of the country, how many LED bulbs have been sold until one minute ago. This, of course, relates to the government company which had promoted this EESL and I do not if Saurabh has come here today. There, we have the managing director of EESL Saurabh, the prime mover of this very successful programme.

You can go into that district and find our every location where these bulbs will be available, and should you want to go and actually buy the bulb, it connects you to the google map and from wherever you are it will show you the way to get to that outlet where the LED bulb would be available. And I think this kind of monitoring, not even on daily basis or weekly basis, but on a minute by minute basis, is the kind of work that Prime Minister Modi has demonstrated over the last five years. Focussed attention, focus on targets, focus on achievement, focus on timelines, focus on outcomes, focus on integrity that has helped us make sure that every citizen in this country today has affordable energy access.

And just like my late father had to study under streetlights to do his engineering, I believe no other child in this country should ever have to go through that ignominy. In fact, if I may share a tryst with Wharton that I have had. I was very worried the whole day today about what could go wrong possibly. Way back in 1989, that is exactly 30 years ago, Professor Harbir Singh at Wharton and I had a conversation on the phone and then he admitted to the Phd programme in strategy at the Wharton Business School. I went through some business problems in my factory, could not go that year, took a gap year and then one thing led to another. I never landed up studying at Wharton.

The story of Dussehra, the day we celebrate a very important Indian festival is when you decided that you will award me the Carnot prize and when I reached there and the unfortunate tragedy back home made me rush back and I could not accept the award. When my office said Dr. Birol has suggested that when he is here in India, we should do the formal award function, I was extremely concerned. I do not know how many of you have seen that movie, ‘Hum Tum.’ It is a Bollywood film in which every time the hero and heroine get together some calamity has to happen. This day will pass well. So will tomorrow and day after tomorrow.

The India today is moving into the new age where we will now provide leadership on the energy sphere in different ways and my own Ministry of Railways we have embarked on the world’s most ambitious railway electrification programme, where over the next 4 or 5 years the entire Indian Railways will be 100% running on electric types. The only other comparable railway which is probably much-much smaller, it would be may be one-fifth or one-sixth the size of the Indian Railways is the Swiss railway which is electrified. No other large railway, in fact, I am given to understand the American railway system has barely 2% electrification.

But Prime Minister Modi directed me long back, and I think again some of my officers were in the room when the call came, I was Power Minister at that time, I wasn’t even handling railways and I got a call some time in 2015 or so, when he conceptualised that we must convert all railway lines, all railway track to electric traction. Since then this government has made rapid strides. I think 5 years ago the railways used to electrify about 600 odd kilometres every year. The last year we did 4000-plus kilometres. This year we should do about 6000 and many of us in Delhi are concerned about pollution, you would be amazed that 60% of the trains that come into Delhi perforce have to come in on diesel, because somewhere along the route the electrification was not done.

That was the kind of planning that we have seen over so many years. The first thing we did was to fix the roots which were partially electrified. For the life of me I cannot understand why anybody would have as was done in the past electrified portions of the road. It just beats me. I cannot figure it out till now. Similarly, a simple thing like the changeover to LED was never thought of government institutions. I think the railways managed to convert the entire rail network in probably less than one year.

We have now conceptualised to support the green energy programme, how the railways can set up solar installations in the large tracts of land that we have across the country, which will help generate electricity at affordable prices for the railways, and further bring down the carbon emissions. And I am sharing all this only to show the holistic manner in which India is contributing to the global effort to fight against climate change, to ensure a better future for the children of India, for the youth of India, for the generations ahead of us and in the true spirit of inter-generational equity, I think it is incumbent on all of us in this generation to make sure that we leave behind a better world to live in. We leave behind us a world where we don’t have to grapple with the kind of problems that our children today, particularly, in the villages have to face and basic amenities are taken care of. And that has been, I think the effort of this government, all of my colleagues here, my ministerial colleagues, Prime Minister Modi working as one organic entity, as one team to empower the people of India and as we had targeted in the first year when I was Power Minister towards the common goal ‘from darkness lead us to light’.

Thank you very much ladies and gentlemen. Big thank you to you Dr. Birol for coming all the way. A big thank you to you, Mark and your colleagues. A big thank you to all my colleagues who have worked with me in this journey over the years and thank you very much to all my friends, well-wishers for making it possible  to be with me today. Thank you very much.

Thank you Mark. Thank you for those very generous words. You are right. I never thought of the number of rooms where I had the opportunity over the last five years to interact with world leaders. I mean, you mentioned it I am remembering the day we were with President Obama in Paris, probably, one of the days where I recognised the importance that India has in the world order, if we have to make climate justice happen and if we have to make the climate successful. Sushilji was part of that negotiating team, led that team, in fact.

I think the biggest characteristic, if I may suggest, is trust. Unless you trust yourself and the people with whom you are engaged, you will never be able to achieve success. And it is only trustworthy people who ever make it to those rooms, people whom, for instance, in this case, a 125 crore Indians trusting Prime Minister Modi and he trusting Mr Prakash Javadekar and I, two colleagues who were with him there, to be a part of the team along with our senior bureaucracy. The trust that the people had in us and our confidence to ensure that that trust is not ever betrayed.

Of course, in any such room, I would think two other things are extremely important – passion and compassion. Unless you are passionate about what you are doing, success will never be yours. And unless you do your work with compassion and that compassion could be for your country, for your people, and it certainly should be for all of us. But I think that compassion should also be for the world community at large. That compassion should also be for future generations. That compassion should also reflect in every sphere of decision that you take, because end of the day, I think that is the very purpose of being.

So, trust, passion and compassion I would think really would be the three characteristics that a leader has to demonstrate to be a part of that room.

Mark, I would like to more inward looking. Dr Birol has to look after the world’s problems, I have to look after my country’s problems first. If at all I am concerned, and which is an agenda of all of us in government, we are really-really concerned that we are still a highly import-dependent economy, both on the petroleum products, natural gas, crude oil and coal also in a big way. So to that extent, in fact, even the electrification of railways, the big thrust to renewables, solar, all of them also are linked to India’s energy security. The fluctuations of international prices, the vagaries of companies and countries around the world choosing to – I don’t know whether I can use the word ‘manipulate the market’ – but at least certainly leave a lot of uncertainty.

And I think that is one of the targets that all of us in government and the people of India are looking up to is can we rid ourselves of this import dependency and become completely energy secure. And ensure that we don’t drain our resources in import of energy products. That alone can transform India into completely another orbit of development, another orbit of progress for the people of India. And that would probably be that final redemption, final goal which would satisfy I think Prime Minister Modi to really feel that yes, this is a job well done or for which he could tell any of his Ministers that okay, you are now being successful.

So, that is one thing which is very clearly an aspirational target for all of us and it will keep me up for few more years. But I am confident that given the big thrust we are doing on certain programmes, not only the renewable energy or the energy efficiency programme, also some transformations on the automobile front, where we hope to lead the world in another sphere of, or to bring down consumption of petroleum products. And several ways where we believe we can actually become a self-sufficient economy.

But what wakes me up in the morning is the enthusiasm of the teeming millions of youth of our country, a very-very excitable young population – more than 60-65% of India is in that age group which is yearning for more, which has that expectation which drives youth, which is aspiring for a quality of life which India never dreamt of in the past, which has big dreams, big hopes, big aims. It’s that youth that drives all of us in our work. It’s that youth, the new startups, the unicorns that are coming up by the day, by the week; inventions, innovations, new ideas that puts pressure on us that really gives us that encouragement to do more. And to my mind, it’s the youth of India who are going to really define India’s future and the work that all of us are doing.



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