Q: You have another big responsibility which is the Ministry of Coal. And in your first couple of years, you started off a very big bang – coal production jumped up. Later on, there has been a fair bit of disappointing news on the coal front. And I am sure a lot of people here in India would love to know as to what is it that you are doing to speed up coal production so that the power plants have more stocks?
A: Just to set the context right, the two big figures that are often talked about – even this year, current year – India is importing less coal than we imported in our first year in office which was a legacy of the past. So, in 2014-15, India imported about 210 million tonnes of coal. This year, we will not exceed 210 million tonnes. That’s area 1.
Area 2 – coking coal we don’t have enough in India. We import about 50 million tonnes of coking coal. We have some coking coal reserves in Raniganj and Jharia which are under fire for the last 40-50, some say 100 years. So, there we have a problem where we need to necessarily import. We also have a large number of power plants. IL&FS has a power plant in Tamil Nadu. It’s been designed for imported coal. Even if I give him coal from Coal India, he cannot use it over there. That’s the weakness of the previous government that they insisted that you design your power plant on imported coal, then we will allow you environmental permissions to set it up. They never imagined the country could have 10% growth of coal production which we had this year, for example, in the first half.
Currently, as we speak, we had about 9.5% growth in coal production as of today, as of yesterday, in coal production. This has never happened before. As regards the shortage, there were a series of events which came in in-between. We had a situation where on 1st April, 2017, the stock at the coal pits – pitheads, was about 67 million tonnes. My officers refused to produce anymore, they said we can’t stock it. There will be fires all over. The power plants were not lifting coal because they thought whenever we want it, we will get it.
And then in the monsoon, there was this stress of power, requirement shot up, coal production cannot keep pace in the monsoon, the stocks dwindled. And then we have had a legacy for the last 16-18 months, which has been a little stretch since July of 2017 till now. But I think the things are turning. Currently, stocks are again on the upswing. Imports also inbetween looked a little stretched because the Adani, TATA’s and SR plants were almost shutdown because of the Supreme Court verdict. Because of which those plants were not importing coal and therefore, companies in the interiors of India had to import coal. So, there were very specific issues but I am glad that things are sorting themselves out.
Q: So, the situation is going to improve?
A: I don’t see any problem there. As I said, we will be importing less coal than we did four years ago and the quality of Indian coal today has never been so good which any of the power producers – and I can see many of them sitting in this room – can confirm.
Q: We are rapidly running out of time. So, I just have time to ask you one more last question. And this is relating to what you cabinet colleague, Transport Minister, Mr Nitin Gadkari said about banks not funding infrastructure and road projects. And, ofcourse, the February 12th circular by RBI. I know you have strong views on this, you were a Power Minister as well.
A: So, I think it’s best that I keep my mouth zipped. All my friends here, probably half of them know my views about it. But let me not give you some headlines for next day’s edition.
Q: But do you think the power situation, the coal situation will sought itself out. Now you have the stress power plants?
A: Well, this government will certainly solve all the situation out. We won’t allow any of the situation to go out of control. The government stands committed to that.
Q: Right… And you will go ahead with that even irrespective of what RBI does or not?
A: I didn’t say that. But the government will ensure come what may, what it takes, we will ensure that none of our industries, none of our people who are creating infrastructure, none of the people who have invested in India will get a raw deal.
Q: Right… One more question Mr. Goyal and this is relating not to coal or to power or to Railways, but this is relating to the political situation in India right now. You have important assembly elections coming up and then, the general elections next year. And the feeling, the perception atleast, whether it’s correct or not, I am not going to say. But the feeling, the perception is that the government is on the back foot. What is your reading of the situation?
A: I can give you one data point which is readily available with me. In 2013, in August-September, I had carried out a nationwide survey not as the BJP but through an independent third party used to do it for media houses. At that time, this was the world’s largest physical survey – 230,000 respondents, and in which, I had predicted in September-October or November of 2013 that we will get an absolute majority, the BJP by itself.
This time around my survey started again the same time, August-September, we have expanded the scope of the survey across the length and breadth of the country. We did 540,000 respondents. It’s I think, it’s unheard of anywhere in the world that 540,000 people, selected randomly through the computer, have been asked over a thirty-minute physical interview on tablet and reported straight into the system to ensure its sanctity. What they believe about the government and various questions –inflation, economy, the situation about their business, situation about the political scene who they will vote for. I am happy to at least share the headline, number that came out. The BJP looks to be between 297 and 303 seats by itself in the 2019.
Q: 297 to 303? That’s very-very precise.
A: 297 to 303 by ourselves, the BJP will get in 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
Q: 2019 Lok Sabha elections, you are saying 297 to 303. Well, ladies and gentlemen. That’s for you, the Coal and the Railways Minister and a BJP leader making this prediction. Probably, there are some clues in this about what may happen in the Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh elections, but that I leave for you to decide and discuss.
Thank you very much, Mr. Goyal. It’s been great pleasure speaking to you.
November 16, 2018 Speaking at 70th AGM of Northern Railway Men’s Union, in Lucknow