October 27, 2018

Speaking at India Ideas Conclave: Agenda for Inclusive Economic Prosperity, in New Delhi

Madhavji, all the other distinguished ladies and gentlemen, actively associated with the India Ideas Conclave 2018. As I was driving in here, I was just trying to reflect on what did we do differently from what was happening in the country for so many years, and has it been a business as usual scenario, is it that governments come in and governments change, but ideas remain constant or almost constant. Or do we see a radical shift in both thinking and execution of ideas?

And, I felt that there was a dramatic shift, both in concept in the thinking behind this government’s policies, in the execution of the policies, and in the objectives with which this government is carrying out its various activities.

I will give you a case in point since the last question related to infrastructure. I will just give you a small case in point, which occurred to me as I drove in and Anuj is here, my colleague, I have just asked him to do a little bit of a research, as we drove in on this subject. Shaurya, we have been investing in the railways over the last 70 years, post-independence. Of course, the amounts were always very small, and as Eeelaji rightly pointed out, a country which is at the development phase cannot afford to have small levels of investment in infrastructure. We will have to go much more aggressive, somewhat keeping in mind the fact that this infrastructure will sustain growth, and this infrastructure will enable a better quality of life for our people, which is that inclusive growth issue that you are discussing.

But if we look at how we have invested in infrastructure and take the railways as just one example – over the last 65 years, every railway budget that came in was a political budget. The Railway Ministry was one of the most coveted Ministries, irrespective of the number of accidents it may have had, because it gave you the clout to make humongous amounts of announcements.

And when this government came in, we realised that we have announcements galore, whether for new rail lines, whether for tracks – every conceivable announcement has been made but has never been backed up with adequate funding. And given that you had projects which were..some of them were as old as of the 70s, which have not yet been completed. In fact, there is a project in West Bengal of the 70s, where I have now asked them to do a zero-based budgeting approach review, because that project to my mind can never come up. Whole townships have come up on the path that the railway was to take.

So, what eventually happened was the budget became a political tool, based on which probably elections were fought and promises were made, knowing full well that this is never going to be implemented. If at all some of them were taken up for implementation, they were given paltry sums of money, which was barely enough to probably just keep the show going, the few officers busy, the security of the land, if any, acquired, some of the stock of tracks and all which are lying there or the sleepers maintain that – don’t know how much of it any case got stolen – but nothing ever got completed.

And if at all something’s got done, it was the base was very….. and I think we frittered away a lot of resources, projects kept getting into huge time and cost over-run, investments made never reached in terms of benefit to the people of India. So, the question of that inclusive growth was never really a material factor while deciding infrastructure investments. And we have landed up in a situation where today, probably, a Railway Minister would be the most unpopular Minister, because he is all the time hounded that ‘but this project has been approved in the budget of 2010, this project has been approved in the budget of 2007, etc. etc.

Now, how do we explain to them? I have a thousand projects which are approved. Mr Modi changed the way the railways worked. First of all, we got rid of that budget, so that that political interference can be mitigated, can be done away with it. I think one of the biggest and, probably elementary, but most sensible reform was doing away with the railway budget, so that we can focus our energies on what is already on the table.

Second, we started prioritizing what is good for India, not what is good for any political class of people. And, at least the last four years, we have had RajyaSabha Members heading the Railway Ministry, which by itself was a rarity if you look at that long list of Railway Ministers. So, we don’t have a political constituency per se to pander to or cater to, in any case, Mr Modi would not allow that, even if it was a LokSabha MP.

And, the study that I have asked my office to do is to check that we have invested about two and a half times the amount in the railways alone on capex, than what was invested between 2009 to 2004. So 2009-14, in the five years UPA-2 invested about 2,30,000 crores in the capex of the railways. In our five-year tenure, 2014-19, including what we have budgeted this year, we would land up spending about 5,29,000 crores, which is about two and a half times or 2.4 times what it was.

But the difference that you will observe, and I can give you a hundred examples standing right here, in the investments done in the last four and a half years, and which we have slated for the next 7-8-10 years, as we have planned the progress of the railways, will show you a huge focus on three aspects – a) safety, absolutely non-compromising effort to improve safety in the railways, b) passenger services, amenities – can we make the passenger experience better, and c) focus on your return on investment – are the lines, are the money that we are putting in really going to get you a good economic return. I mean, there were 14 lines which are going to transport coal, for example, they are all extremely viable lines. They have freight waiting to be transported. There is a huge shortage of coal, large amounts of coal continue to be imported, transport is one of the bottlenecks amongst others, but these lines have been languishing for years and years.

A focused approach on completing those 14 lines, even though they have already had nearly a 3x or 5x cost over-run, but be that as it may, we don’t have a choice anymore. But a completion of these projects in time will help move power, or will help move coal. Coal will help provide power, power will transform the lives of the citizens of India, and Soubhagya within the next4 or 5 months will ensure every willing consumer in the country will get power at his home – every single willing consumer. I have used the word ‘willing consumer’ when we drafted that about two years ago, because if somebody just doesn’t apply for a connection, we should not have a particular journalist go with a mike, shove it up the mouth of the resident of that home, and say but you don’t have power here.

So, clearly, the guy has to be a willing consumer. He has to make an application. But then all of this is intertwined. You can’t give an electricity connection to everybody, unless you are sure at the backend you provided enough power generation and transmission ability. You can’t guarantee power generation unless you make sure you have a project pipeline for thermal, and now for solar, wind, hydro, enough to ensure that we never run out of power and we don’t have power shortages.

And it is this holistic thinking of what is best for the common man, for the poorest of the poor in this country pursuing the agenda that PanditDeendayalUpadhyaya articulated in integral humanism. Prime Minister Modi has focused on a variety of programmes, which collectively bring about not only growth, but truly inclusive growth, which collectively prepare India for sustainable growth in the years ahead, which prepare India with infrastructure – much needed infrastructure – to ensure that people get a good quality of life, simultaneously, making India a power to reckon with in the comity of nations internationally.

And I think it’s this 360-degree approach to issues, which has been a significant shift in policy, significant shift in execution that truly has made a difference to the lives of the people of India. I remember, the promise of universal power, or access to power for every home, was announced by the National Advisory Council – it was the NAC, right? Those days? All those announcements were, in any case, made by the NAC, the Prime Minister did not have much role in that. But Mrs Sonia Gandhi had made an announcement that by 2009 every home will get power. We didn’t see that happening till 2014 and figure seemed to suggest, some reports seemed to suggest that around 2011-12, we had nearly 300 million people without electricity, which is about 55-60 million homes, or 65 million homes.

This government looked at that very systematically in a focused manner, and with a five-year deadline that okay, we are in this term of office, we have five years with us. We focused on fuel supply, focused on generation, ensured that we expand the transmission grid. Today, we have One-nation, One-grid, you can get power across the nation at one price. Power can flow in different directions whenever required, then we worked on the distribution, what we can do to strengthen it. I think nearly $ 20 billion worth of support the central government gave to the states to strengthen the distribution networks.

First focused to make sure every village gets electricity, then looked at the hamlets, the Thanis and Tolas all around the village. Very often people get confused, when we say a village got electrified they say, but I have a thousand villages in my constituency not electrified. Those are actually those adjoining small areas, hamlets around a village, around a revenue village. So, we made sure that we next take electricity to each one of those.

And now in a focused way, we are ensuring that every single home – and I am delighted to share with you, Madhya Pradesh, I don’t know, is there a model code of conduct constraint here? But I don’t think so in Delhi. But Madhya Pradesh has only four days back sent me a message that Madhya Pradeshevery household has got electrified in the state. Bihar is on the anvil, probably, another month, by 30th November, at best by December, Bihar will have every single home with electricity.

And the story goes on and before we get into the next financial year, we would have had electricity reach every single home.

Cooking gas – who would have imagined that a nation which gave about 120 million gas connections in decades of this programme will give another 120 million in five years. I don’t think anybody would have ever imagined this scale of rollout to ensure that what Mr Modi and his mother, and his sister went through, no other woman in this country will have to go through.

Taking digital technology to the remotest corners of this country within five years is certainly a programme none of us in this room had imagined is feasible in such a short span of time. But dedicated focus on implementation – and you spoke about regulation, I think this government is one government which has kept minimum few regulators, new regulations coming in. We are, on the contrary, trying to see how we can strengthen the existing regulation system or make it easier for regulators today.

For example, I will give you a simple example. Earlier, a decision of the Central Power Regulator (CERC) was not automatically binding all over the country, so if you had a similar issue, which a 100 power plants had, you needed a 100 cases to be decided, discussed, adjudicated, and each one would take a decision, sometimes contrary to each other, then go back to the court, tribunal, then go to the supreme court – and years would pass of indecisiveness.

A regulation was brought in that a central regulator’s decision can automatically flow to all similar cases. This is a minor example I am just sharing with you. What I am only trying to say is that this kind of holistic thinking – Swachhta, a clean India – something which many people ridiculed, little realizing that that was something so dear even to the father of the nation that he said Swachhta is above Godliness, cleanliness is above Godliness.भगवानकीपूजाबादमेंकरेंगेपहलेस्वच्छबनाओअपनेआँगनको, प्रांगणको |

And clearly, all the economists here I am sure will appreciate the impact, the huge social impact a clean India will have even on the economic well-being of this country, on health costs, on the way we think and live. Again, we may have naysayers who will always find fault with everything, but that is where we need a positive thinking community or a positive thinking intelligentsia to be able to articulate all this to the rest of the country, so people don’t get swayed by false propaganda or by false commentary.

I remember, in one of my interviews on a show, UdayBhai will remember it, when I was sitting on the stage and I was questioned about one of these programmes – I don’t know whether it was electricity or Ujjwala – that ‘oh, but so and so place the people have not got electricity.’ And by chance, just like you have a small, I think cashew nut lying a just little ahead of Leelaji, and at that time there was some small piece of paper, smaller than this, which was lying somewhere around, it was much smaller actually. And I said, यारयहप्रोग्रामकेorganisers नेकामअच्छानहींकियाहै, कहाँसफाईभीनहींरखसके 5-स्टारहोटलमेंप्रोग्रामहैऔरयहकचरेकापीसदेखोस्टेजकेऊपरपड़ाहै |

Now is that the view one should take, or one should look at the beautiful….. To my mind, when we are talking of inclusive growth and we are talking of growth reaching to the last man at the bottom of the pyramid, to the remotest village in Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim, when we are looking at a development of the nation as a whole, particularly North-East India and the eastern parts of India, which have remained deprived of growth for, as our younger sister said, not only decades or centuries, but probably thousands of years. How long after all will we keep remembering Takshashila or Nalanda and all, we will have to look at today and we will have to address the challenges of today. While we are proud of our heritage and tradition, we can draw a lot from that tradition and that heritage, but action will have to be today.

And I think, to my mind, what Mr Modi presented to this country was an action-oriented government, focused on translating his ideas or his vision for a better tomorrow for 1.25 billion people into action on the ground, in ensuring that every single citizen gets the fruits of development, infrastructure reaches every single village in the country. And with that in mind, the vision that he articulated of a New India by 2020, when we turn 75, an India where every single citizen has a roof over his head, an India where every single citizen’s home has a toilet – nearly 82 million toilets have been made in the last four years – 82 million, more than that were made in 65 years.

Where every single home gets electricity round the clock, has clean drinking water, has road access, not only to the village, under our rural roads programme started by My Vajpayee, but access right up to his home; where quality of education and healthcare using modern technology, particularly through the vast spread of digital technologies across the country, we can give good quality healthcare, good quality education to every citizen. Promoting micro, small and medium enterprises in a big way, so that they engage with the formal economy, they get money from the formal banking system and are not dependent on money lenders for their subsistence.

They connect with the digital world also to become providers, through e-commerce, through the GeM portal, through various ways by which an artisan or a craftsman in Varanasi or in Tiruchirappalli can also probably be a supplier globally. That vision being translated into action on the ground has been our mantra for the last five years and towards that mantra, the enormous strides we have made, in some sense, beating every single date that the Sustainable Development Goals had articulated in 2015-16 that the United Nations came out with 17 goals, but most of them culminating somewhere in 2030. But a man in a hurry, at the helm of affairs in India, who believes that every single day lost in the life of a young child in a remote village in India is national capital being wasted – just to bring in a little economist jargon, because I don’t know much of economics. Every single hour of a lady in the house wasted is national capital being wasted. Our resources losing their value.

And, then the prioritizing of issues; after all, unless power reaches every single home, digital cannot follow, quality education cannot follow, connectivity cannot be improved, healthcare cannot be improved. Unless healthcare is provided for, the lifespan or quality of life of a citizen cannot be improved. Given the current status of education, digital is the only way where we can monitor programmes and we can ensure high quality education reach every part of the country.

So, electricity, digital, ensuring healthcare, making the women’s life more comfortable, ensuring that opportunities are provided across the length and breadth of the country, so everybody doesn’t move towards urban agglomerates, you don’t overcrowd the cities. Wherever cities have a crowd, what can we do with that? How can we provide affordable housing to them? What can we do with local transport? Can metros go across the length and breadth of the cities, which are over-crowded?

I mean Mumbai now is planning the 4th and 5th metro line, railways is investing nearly 75,000 crores in Mumbai, not because I am from Mumbai, because one-third of the passengers of railways are from Mumbai, out of 22 million passengers, 7 million passengers every day travel in the Mumbai Suburban. You can’t have them losing their lives every day. I have myself hung on to the gate, at the gate to the chain for eight years of my student life, every morning and evening.

And towards that end, this kind of holistic development agenda, which Prime Minister Modi and the government of the day has prepared, has been articulated at various forums. Report card has been presented to the citizens of India every single year, on the 26th May every year for the last four years. We have gone back to the people with a report card. And the kind of monitoring of all these programmes, the kind of effort to hold people accountable to the success of these programmes, the kind of transparency and corruption-free environment that is being sought to be provided and effort made in that direction, to my mind, is unparalleled when we look at India’s history of seven decades.

And I am very confident that the ideas that come out of such a Conclave, and I have had the chance to read some of the recommendations that were made in your earlier Conclaves, of course, in better surroundings than the one this time. And Iwas looking forward to come to Goa, by the way, this time. I think it’s unfortunate that I haven’t had a chance to actually attend your Conclaves earlier, but I am delighted to see that the kind of recommendations, the kind of ideas that are collated through the exchanges that you have here, the kind of feedback that we get from the speakers or the participants of the Conclaves really help us in policy making, really help us in going back to the drawing board sometimes to relook at what could be done better, what can be done differently. And that has been the differentiating factor of this government, a government responsive to citizen feedback, a government responsive to ideas that come out of even the media, for example, a government where we spend a lot of time engaging with stakeholders to understand what they feel is good for them.

Of course, we have done some things which some people have not found very palatable, but I think that was the need of the hour. Somebody had to bite the bullet, otherwise, we would have had one more government with a business as usual scenario. I am delighted that the governance deficit that we have been able to remove, or I would say reduce substantially, in the last four-four and a half years of this government will certainly prepare India, will certainly empower India for decades and decades of prosperity in the years ahead.

Before I conclude, I would like to correct a mistake I made which my colleague just pointed out. I am delighted to share with you that Bihar has had a 100% household electrification yesterday, a good two months ahead of schedule – something that this government has focused on, time-bound execution of big ideas. What is that word, BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goals), that is what this government likes to take up, really big and very audacious goals. But for us, BHAG is not running away. BHAG for us is participation.

हमसबमिलकरभागलेतेहैंइनबड़ेउद्देश्योंकोपूरीतरीकेसेसफलबनानेमें, यहसरकारकिसीविषयसेभागतीनहींहै, आपसबकेसाथसम्मिलितहोकरभागलेकरसभीकार्यक्रमोंकोसफलबनातीहै | औरयहइससरकारकीभूमिकारहीहैसाढ़ेचारसालकीऔरमुझेपूराविश्वासहैकिआपसबकेजोआइडियाजआयेहैं, जोआपसबकीसोचहैउसकोहमऔरआगेकैसेबढ़ासकेउसमेंयहसरकारसंकल्पितरहेगी |

बहुत-बहुतधन्यवाद |



Thank you very much Piyushji, please come. We will do a little bit of formality. That was a very impassioned speech about how the role of having the correct ‘neeti’ and ‘niyati’ both is important for inclusive economic growth. Now, I don’t know how much time, I think we have time for just literally two questions from the audience. So, I see one hand there. And please be very short in your question, be very pointed to whom the question is directed.

Q: Hello, this is Murali here. Mr Marathe spoke about moving away from employability to income-generating opportunities and Shamika spoke about investment into soft infrastructure, my question is related to the two. As a part of the software infrastructure, you emphasized on health a lot, but the other area is about education where don’t you think that there is a need now to move away from the current structure of education right at school level to make it more skill and vocation based, whereby what I am trying to suggest is that provide them with a basic education, which leads them to basic mathematics, basic literacy and then at least offer opportunities to the students to take up vocations like say plumbing or electrician’s work or something like that. My thought process is coming from the fact that if somebody is in future going to become a plumber or something, what is that person going to do by reading advanced calculus or trigonometry and stuff like that, which he is currently forced to in schools as he goes around?

A: I may supplement one thing. When Prime Minister was Chief Minister of Gujarat, he had had a study conducted on how many different vocations or skills impact a person’s life from the time a child is conceived till a person dies, or a few days thereafter. If I remember correctly, some 5000 different skills were identified, which touch our lives through our lifespan, which is why the only one Ministry we have started in this five years is the Skill Development and Entrepreneurship Ministry. There is a huge focus on that. But that does not take away the importance of basic education. After all, we have all gone through school; school teaches you certain things like discipline, opens your mind to a certain way of living, working, thinking.

Unfortunately, many schools today don’t have moral science lectures or civics lectures. It’s a very sad thing. I think that’s something we should try and once again bring back very aggressively. Of course, the risk of people saying you are trying to bring in religion and stuff like that, but I think it’s very unfair criticism. I went to a Christian school where there was a lecture on moral science for us, and during that lecture the Christian students would go to the church in my school. So, it was a very beautiful arrangement.

I don’t know how much today in schools we focus on physical education in sports. This government is trying to inculcate the habit of sport in a big way. One of my companies in coal has partnered with Jharkhand government, we have 358 Adivasi and children from the remotest corners of Jharkhand – 358 students, selected through a video-graphed transparent process, who are being trained in that sports academy and I had an occasion to visit it three weeks ago. It was probably one of the most satisfying visits I have had to any of my units. 358 students, there were between 8 and 12, we are picking them young, providing the best of quality of nutrition, healthcare, education, in good schools in the neighbourhood – DAV schools or KendriyaVidyalayas, or Delhi Public School that kind of quality of schools there. But training them up to be sportsperson in whichever field they are interested in.

So, I think you need to develop going forward a mix of formal education, coupled with skill development and vocational training to choose what the person likes, something like the 3 Idiots story, and prepare individuals, and that will provide to my mind millions, if not tens of millions of working opportunities as Satishji rightly said.

Q:Thank you very much. I am concerned that in the quest for GDP growth, we seem to be missing out on monitoring and safeguarding our natural capital, which is our environment, our natural resources, our forests, pasture lands, glaciers, watersheds and everything that the very many self-help groups and cooperative societies that Dr Marathe spoke about so convincingly that they depend on to apply their knowledge and to produce the products,for which he is suggesting that they get a little more than they already do. Now, there is, and has been, for the last 10 to 15 years a focus and a drive in international economics towards bringing in the valuation of ecosystems. This is something that, in fact, even Ministry of Statistics has been participating in, together with UN Statistics. I am associated with UNESCO and we work on this as well. The circular economy concept and the variations thereof, which we find in several of the countries which are post-industrial, are already 10 years to 15 years old. And I am somewhat concerned that we don’t seem to be going in this direction, nor do we seem to be having a discussion about it in a rational way, without saying that GDP growth has to be above all. Mr Minister, I would like to know what you think about this.

A: Well, I had the good fortune to be a part of the delegation that was at COP21 with the Prime Minister, and frankly, that was one day in my life where I really realized what a 56-inch chest is – every single world leader at Paris was looking up to Prime Minister Modi’s leadership to make that agreement happen and to bring about consensus. And I think what we achieved in Paris where we were able to bring about a positive affirmation of climate justice, was probably one of the most important elements of India’s contribution to protect the developing world from, I would say, persecution by the developed world when it comes to balancing the needs of development and the needs of climate change.

Despite the fact that even today, in 2018, India consumes less coal per capita than the United States used to consume in the 1860s – a good 150 years ago, despite the fact that we are at the cusp of a massive thrust of development where we need low-cost energy, which sometimes compromises with the environment – sometimes I said, not always. Despite the fact that we have not contributed to this problem in the first place, despite having 17% of the world population, India’s contribution to this problem is barely 2%, whereas the Europe and America together have contributed over half the carbon emissions that we have up there.

Despite all of this, despite the fact that you and I are trained from childhood that when we leave a room, we switch off the light or switch off the fan otherwise your mother will come in, point it out to you, why is it not off? Whereas you go to any city in the world, be it Sydney, be it Tokyo, be it London, be it New York, Washington, or any other important international city, you will find 100-storey buildings, empty the whole night, office buildings, government buildings, brightly lit up because they look nice. It gives a skyline, it gives beauty to that city, little caring for the contribution to climate change and the carbon emissions that that causes.

Despite all of this, today India has embarked on one of the biggest renewable energy programme ever embarked in the history of mankind. We have taken on a commitment to reduce our contribution of carbon emissions relative to our GDP by 30 to 35%, one of the most aggressive contributions, which no other country in the world has taken up. On a personal note, Prime Minister Modi is looking at trying to do better than that. We have looked at a huge programme for regeneration of our forests and increasing our green cover, creating another two or three billion tonnes of carbon sink. No other country has such an ambitious programme as that.

And despite the fact that the polluters of the world are backing out of their commitments to climate change, India is going ahead, full steam ahead, more aggressively than even what we had committed. And I am happy to share with you, the Indian Railways is not only going to eliminate diesel engines and going for a 100% electrification – first railway in the world, nowhere in the world the railway of our size has 100% electrification. The US is barely 2% electrified.

But apart from the 100% electrification, we will soon be coming out with a 20 GW renewable energy procurement programme, by which in the next 10 years, I hope to make Indian railways a net zero emitter of carbon emission. I dare say no other country in the world has such ambitious plans to protect and preserve the environment while ensuring a better quality of life, while ensuring growth for our people that India has. And we can all be proud of that.




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