March 9, 2019

Speaking at Indian Chamber of Commerce: Roadmap for 2024, in Mumbai

In railways, we tried to do it across the country in every division, in every zone, and I must say that the work that the young children of today are doing really make us very-very proud. The enthusiasm, the passion for the work, the clarity of vision for their future, and therefore, I think a big round of applause for the women of India.

My senior colleague, elder brother, one of the finest Ministers India has ever seen in both his terms, with Mr Vajpayee and now Mr Modi, a person who has embodied the highest levels of integrity in governance, somebody who has brought new ideas to the table always out of the box thinking, and somebody whom I have always looked up to the extent that I normally follow the Ministries that he heads right behind him and follow his footsteps, Shri Suresh Prabhu Ji.

The president of the Indian Chamber of Commerce, senior vice president Shri Mayank Jalan Ji, Ameya Prabhu, vice chairman; my colleague and senior leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party, president of Mumbai BJP, Shri Ashish Shelarji, BSC CO Shri Ashish Chouhan Ji, other distinguished panellists for today’s programme, distinguish ladies and gentlemen, citizens of my city, Mumbai, ladies and gentlemen, friends in the media. ICC has turned 90 years, not very far behind India, but at the end of 72 years of Independence, one often wonders whether you have done justice to the 130 crore people of India

I would have thought that post 1947, just as many other countries of the world embarked on the path of rapid growth and development soon after the second World War, India would have also probably had a different trajectory if we had good governance, if we had compassion and we had some leaders with a far greater degree of holistic planning, holistic thinking. Unfortunately, for a very long period of time we landed up with a confused polity. There were times we tried to give a boost to industrialisation but did not focus on all the enablers of industrialisation. We remained confused whether the private sector will lead the growth of the economy or it will be the public sector-led. We vacillated between centralised planning and occasional bouts of liberalisation, but coupled also with nationalisation of different sectors of the economy.

And in that confused state of mind, I think there were a lot of lost opportunities. And I think, when I look back we have seen decades of lost opportunities. It is not as if it was a short period and a country can overcome that period. I remember talking about it in budget. Inflation sometime in September 1974 had touched 34%. I don’t know how life would have been at that time, I was very young, but at that levels of inflation with food shortages, the country was grappling with basic issues like Roti, Kapda Aur Makaan.

Over a period of time, when the nation progressed, issues did move to Bijli, Sadak and Pani. There were tall claims made that we will eliminate poverty more than 50 years ago or nearly 50 years ago. We kept setting targets and resetting targets over the years with very little focus on achieving those targets in a defined time frame and, therefore, in some sense, I think the people of India had lost the self-confidence, the confidence in our ability to transform this country to a super-power, to a great country, to a country where everybody has basic amenities, access to home connectivity with different infrastructures, quality education, quality healthcare.

And somehow, I think a period of despondency had started setting in, particularly in the youth of India. I picked up on what Mayank started with and truly that was the mood and sentiment which we inherited in 2014. I need not go down the path, all of you are well-learned about the economic situation in 2014, but it was an embarrassment to be called a fragile five economy. It was extremely shameful that we had had almost double-digit inflation at an average for years and years at length. It was sad that we had pump primed the economy in the short-term to show a very artificially high growth period only to pay for that over 8 or 10 years of high fiscal deficits, high inflation, high current account deficits, many of which could have been avoided if we had not taken imprudent decisions during the 2007 and 2009 period.

Country had come to a stage where a taxi driver in Mumbai when he asked my wife for a hundred rupees for a journey, which on the metre was showing I think 75 or 80 rupees. Typically, I think all of us in this room would have in any case given 100 rupees if he had asked for 80 rupees. But since he asked for 100, my wife said ‘but the metre shows 80,’ and the response of the cabby was telling and biting. The response was, and I almost quote ‘मेम साहब मैंने तो 20 रुपये ही ज़्यादा मांगे हैं कोई कोयले की खदान थोड़े ही मांग ली’.

I promise you at that point of time I did not know that I would ever become a Minister and certainly not a Minister of Coal. The despondency had gone to this extent that when I, as I said I followed Suresh Ji’s footsteps and looked after Power for a short period, actually not very short, nearly three and a half years, and before I go further, I must acknowledge that it was Suresh Ji who guided me through that period. He actually with a team of colleagues sat down and drew up the roadmap of what work I should do to sort out the power woes of the country. And I shall eternally be grateful to Suresh Ji for that, for the handholding that he did for me.

But at point of time, the country had come to such a stage, the despondency was so much that when power plants were sought be set up, and I have studied this in great detail. The power plants that were designed and developed during the 2005 to 2012-13 period, all of those power plants were largely designed on imported coal, despite the fact that India has amongst the world’s largest reserves of thermal coal in the country. But if a power plant went to ask for a coal linkage or a coal mine, he either had to pay a huge cost for it, and I mean collateral cost, or he was advised you better set up the plant on a design which accepts imported coal, because we will never be able to fulfil your coal requirements.

And I was studying the coal imports for power plants, the way they shot up between 2008 or 2009 and 2014 was a sad reflection on the nation’s inability to plan and to think big. At that point of time, I wish somebody would have thought of promoting coal mining faster and better, so that instead of allowing plants to come up on imported coal we could have easily mined larger amounts of coal and ensured that we are not dependent on coal.

Today, even if we increase the coal production, we will continue for the next at least 20 years more to import non-coking coal, thermal coal, because those plants are per se designed on imported coals. NTPC, BHEL are working try and change that and see that if we can modify the designs, not yet successfully. We are trying to now blend the imported and Indian coal and improve utilisation. I am only giving this one example to show the way the nation was thinking, the way we were planning our future, the way we were looking at our own abilities. Failure was not something to be looked down upon, probably I think at sometimes I think failure was almost celebrated in the country.

You had a Prime Minister who would say that, well, I am sorry if there is a big scandal in the 2G spectrum case, but what do I do? I did not decide who the Minister will be. These are the compulsions of coalition politics. I don’t know, some of you may remember this sentence of the honourable Prime Minister at that point of time. If you will google it right now, it will come out straight. ‘Compulsions of coalition politics’ – a new terminology was coined in 2010 or 2011 when this scam broke out.

And by the way, if any of you thinks that there was no scam or that as if the court has given a clean chit, having studied the whole issue I can tell you that the entire investigation was done before 2014. The entire hearings took place before 2014 and when the judge sat down to write his order, while I don’t have the exact words on his order, but the sense was that the evidence has not been presented before me to be able to give the decision correctly on what has happened in the case.

So, I wonder if evidence was sought to be suppressed or sought to be not presented to the court adequately, and if anybody thinks that the judgement came during our time, it is just that the judgement came after the change of government in 2014. Everything happened before that, the hearings, the investigation, everything. Now, of course, we are in appeal and, hopefully, the courts will take cognizance of that.

But it is that mindset that I believe this government set out to change and it has been a 5-year journey in changing the thinking of this country from a ‘chalta hai mind set to a Namumkin ko Mumkin karne wala’ mindset. We will show extraordinary performance and make the impossible possible. And very often, the argument is that well, it is five years now, but look at the track record of 5 years. From a fragile five, we have become the world’s fastest growing large economy for almost 3 years in a row. You have been able to successfully bring down inflation last month to 2.05% from what it was 6 years ago at about 12-13%, your current account deficits are largely under control, hovering around 2% from four and a half percent a few years ago.

Fiscal deficits have been significantly brought down from six and a half percent, which was the fiscal imprudence that I was talking of in 2008, 2009, to now 3.4% estimated for the current year, which in reality is about 3.35%. And I had mentioned it in Ashish’s program which CII had at Bombay Stock Exchange that we could have easily brought it 3.3, but my Prime Minister insists on honest budgets and, therefore, I could not use my chartered accountancy skills.

After every earthquake, you have to clear the debris. I think in some sense, whether it is Suresh ji or all of us, we have been trying to clear the debris so that we can create the foundation of the new India that each one of us in this room desires to see in our lifetime in the very near future. And any kind of transformation that one wants to do can never be done by just a touch-up job. All of us at some time in our life must have, I am sure, done an interior decoration in our house or our office or done up our premises or maybe even constructed a home.

We are all from Mumbai mostly, ‘मुंबई में एक बड़ा अच्छा वाक्य है जो रिफ्लेक्ट करेगा जो मैं कहने जा रहा हूँ.’ When we came in government we had two choices, one was we could do a touch-up job in our country. We could have easily allowed credit growth, unrestricted and unlimited credit growth to happen. We need not have gone for such major structural changes and improvements of the macro economy. We could have allowed fiscal deficits to remain a little higher, blamed it on the old government, kept crying about the past and pump prime the economy with more spending and probably given a sense of great deal of well-being to a section of society, which would probably reflect this room and the opinion makers of the country.

But we decided that just doing a touch-up job would be like as we say in Mumbai चूना लगाने का काम होता है, बोलते हैं मुंबई में न ‘चूना लगाकर चला गया’ फिर कभी न कभी इतिहास बोलता कि सुरेश प्रभु भी और पीयूष गोयल भी देश को चूना लगाकर चले गए।. We wanted to set the things right so that अंदर जो दीमक घुसा हुआ है दीवार के अंदर, the termites in the system had to be removed for which you have to first do a scrap down job. Correct? Any paint company owner here? No. You do a scrap down job, remove all the muck that is there inside. Then do probably putty filling or something. Then do couple of coats of paint. Let it dry also. Before you put the final coat of paint, you remove the debris, otherwise the debris will again ruin your paint, and then you put final paint coat.

In some sense, this 5-year period, despite achieving such phenomenal results in terms of the macro-economy becoming stronger, controlling inflation, making India self-sufficient in food, ensuring every woman in our home has a cooking gas connection, incidentally today or yesterday, we would have crossed 7 crore free LPG connections to the poor of India. Nearly 10 crore toilets, so that our sisters and mothers don’t have to have the embarrassment of not being able to use a toilet between sunrise and sunset.

Healthcare for 50 crore Indian brothers and sisters, the less privileged sections of the society, who otherwise may have had to possibly either let go without treatment or borrow heavily and lead a life of, probably, poverty after that just to treat a near and dear one. Providing healthcare to these large numbers of poor in the country, ensuring that electricity is no more a subject in the country to be debated. Of course, being in Mumbai may be we don’t realise the importance of 24/7 energy access for the entire country, every willing consumer in the country today has an electric connection, and every state can have enough electricity there is enough in the system and more so that everybody can be provided 24/7 power.

All of these things having been achieved in a short span of 5 years, things which should have been done maybe 30-40 years ago. And along with that, creating the base, the foundation of a strong vibrant economy, a better future for the youth of India in parallel looking at environmental concerns, in parallel tackling climate change problems, in parallel making the country a safe and secure place – be it terrorism, be it naxalism. A government committed to fighting back, a government committed to eliminating it, a government committed to taking the development to 150 aspirational districts, earlier called backward districts, so that we can weed out naxal movements from the root. We take development to the people so that naxalism can be eliminated.

We strike back if somebody looks at India within an evil eye. We don’t have a weak government which is not willing to act even after a terrorist attack which we have witnessed in Mumbai on 26/11, 2008, where I remember all of us living through that for two or three days and yet not being able to respond to such a gruesome tragedy that struck Mumbai. A leadership which is willing to strike back, a leadership which has created an international image, in which the world is with you, rather than you worrying about what the world will react if you were to take an action against terrorists in a neighbouring country.

You create an entire ecosystem in the country and internationally, which is one of pride, which is one of self-confidence, which is creating base for a long term future, and which has a vision on which it is acting, a vision a little bit of which was articulated on 1st of February when the budget was presented. But a vision which truly defines what the new India should look like. And by the way, the new India concept is nothing new, Swami Vivekananda talked of it over a 100 years ago, Mahatma Gandhi talked of it 80 years ago, but if somebody acted on that vision it was Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who really took that vision on the grassroots, on the ground, who realised that unless we make a clean India, unless swachhata is given priority, we cannot really make India a great country to live in.

Unless we take banking and financial inclusion to every citizen and every home in this country we cannot eliminate middlemen. Unless we take healthcare to every citizen you cannot eliminate poverty. Unless you give electricity to every home, you can’t reach digital technology to the home, and you will have a whole section of the country, which will remain deprived of development, of progress.

I mean how can a child in a village in Odisha without electricity, without road, without cooking gas in his or her home, have good health, study, compete with your and my children. Can we not have a society where everybody gets and equal opportunity? After all, all of us also would have some roots somewhere in our villages, in our generations before us where possibly we boarded a train and our life took a different path. But we still have those crores of people who never got that opportunity to board a train and move out of despondency, of poverty, of backwardness, who never got an opportunity to see a 5-star hotel, who never got an opportunity to go to a private school, who doesn’t know what a GMAT exam is or a SAT exam is, who doesn’t realise that if skilled development is not taken up seriously, he will never be able to come out of the traditions and traditional mode of incomes.

And I think it is that structural change that we have witnessed in this country in parallel with development, in parallel huge amount of achievements on all the programmes we have set out to do, programmes implemented in a time-bound manner, programmes implemented with the highest degree of integrity, programmes which have been implemented to reach the last man at the bottom of the pyramid without leakages. हमने कभी यह नहीं बोला कि 100 रुपये भेजेंगे तो 15 रुपये आपको मिलेंगे और, 85 rupees will be lost in the system and middleman, and other people will steal your money away.

Every programme that has been implemented in the last 5 years ultimately connects to the other like the beads in a necklace. And if you look at it holistically you will find the interconnections between programme, be it the Jan Dhan Yojana taking financial inclusion to everybody, be it Swachha Bharat, be it Digital India, be it Bharat Mala, be it Sagarmala, be it Udan. And I can list out each of the initiatives – Ayushman Bharat, Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana (PMJAY), the PM Kisan Yojana, each one of them interlinking as beads in a necklace to provide a better future for our citizens, the youth of tomorrow.

The multidimensional approach that this government has conducted itself in the last 5 years and the vision that we have for the next 10 years to take India to first become a 5 trillion economy in 5 years and then a 10 trillion economy in another 8 years after that is truly a holistic roadmap to the future in which I invite all of you and all the chambers of commerce and industry leaders to participate, to enjoy the fruits of this growing economy of this aspirational India and ensure that all our activities reach that man at the remotest corner India, who for so many years has been waiting, has been hoping, has been aspiring to see in his life.

And I believe that this is the time where we are at the cusp of taking this country to the next level of development, the next level of socio- economic transformation, where together, each one of us can contribute to making India a superpower, to making India the world’s best place to live in. And I have no doubt in my mind that once the collective efforts of 130 crore Indians comes on to the table, this country will not only meet the demands and aspirations of all our people, of the youth of India, but will show the world how with high value systems, with good value systems one can ensure development of a hundred and thirty crore people, one can ensure equitable development yet promoting entrepreneurship, promoting people with ideas, promoting the youth to be self-sufficient, living on their own feet, living the life of dignity and not being dependent, on as the Prime Minister said ‘dolls and deals’.

Let’s look for a powerful India. Let’s look for an aspirational India. Let’s look for an India, which looks at inclusive development for each and every citizen of this country. And I think that is the only roadmap which can succeed, an India which sees development reach every single citizen of the country, reach every nook and corner of this country, an India in which India leads the world in development, an India which will be the most sought after destination for every country in the world – be it for business, be it for tourism, be it for spirituality, be it for knowledge, be it for invention and innovation. And that is the India that I believe is the India of our dreams, is the India of tomorrow.

Thank You.

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