January 30, 2019

Speaking at Launch of IEA Report: The Future of Rail – Opportunities for Energy & the Environment

… for his leadership of the energy industry, of the energy policy framework being developed across borders, and somebody who is very passionate about his job. Dr Vinod, thank you very much for giving India this opportunity to launch this very important report on the future of rail. And I do hope we can continue to work together in many-many years in the future.
Mr Vinod Kumar Yadav, Chairman Railway Board; Mr Loubinoux, the Director General of the International Union of Railways; Dr Timur Gul, who just made this presentation about the summary of outcomes of this report that we have launched today; my good friend Bruce, Bruce Murphy and I have worked for almost five years now. He is as difficult as one can get, but as loving as one can desire.
But I am happy to recognize the presence of professors and his colleagues who have come down from the …. centre and I am really grateful for their effort despite my own failure to be able to accept the award when I reached literally the doorstep of the ….. Centre, but for very tragic reasons could not accept that award that day, but thank you very much professor. I am very grateful to you.
Members of the Railway Board, secretary Razdan, Dr Ajay Mathur, Mr Berhad Sarotra; other colleagues from the railways, from other areas of the energy space, friends from the media, ladies and gentlemen.
At the outset, I am very sorry I was a little late coming in, but right now I am completely not sure what I am supposed to do for the next 10 minutes or 15 minutes. The time and moment is changing every few minutes and I am in the midst of a very important assignment I am temporarily holding. So my sincerest apologies for not being able to make it. In time, I was doing a little bit of writing work and after a long time at that, because over the years you tend to lose your writing skills, you are more comfortable dictating. Particularly, in India we are so used to dictating our messages, our speeches, our comments, and this is one time that I cannot enjoy the benefit of that staff support. But thank you for your indulgence.
Today incidentally is also the death anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, the father of the nation. Railways has played a very important role in the life of Mahatma. In fact, in his journey from Mohan to Mahatma – his name was Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi – his journey from Mohan to Mahatma was captured in a tableau on the 26th January, when we celebrated the Republic Day. Because it was his experience on that rail compartment in South Africa that truly defined his life as we saw it evolve over the years.
That incident of being thrown off a train shaped not just his life, but India’s freedom struggle, possibly also the global philosophy of non-violence and truth. I pay my humble respects to Mahatma Gandhi. We are celebrating 150 years of Mahatma’s birth anniversary, and I believe his thoughts even today reverberate in the nation’s psyche. Each one of us is inspired by his solutions to the problems of humanity and if one was to look up his writings I think what he said 80 years/100 years ago is as relevant today as it was so many years ago.
In fact, its relevance has only grown over the years. His thoughts today are relevant for the entire world. If I may quote from one of his writings – ‘the day the power of love overrules the love of power, the world will know peace.’ And I don’t think he meant ‘power’ in the context of energy, but truly, we have seen how all the nations of the world conspired to achieve a better world to progress towards a better world for our youth, for our future generations in 2015 in Paris when we all collectively agreed to tackle the menace of climate change through proactive measures, through significant advancements to bring down the levels of pollution, the high levels of carbon emissions and make the world a better place to live in.
Mahatma Gandhi spoke of this a hundred years ago. He recognized that a clean environment is necessary for a better quality of life. And I am delighted to share with all of you that this government led by Prime Minster Shri Narendra Modi is committed to ensuring a better future for the youth of India, a better future for every citizen of India and ensuring that climate change is an agenda of good governance, ensuring that we reduce our contribution to the messing up of the environment to the high levels of carbon emissions.
And we are all committed to ensure we are responsible global citizens. We are all committed to ensure climate justice, and we are all committed to being a part of this global effort to make a change across borders, across continents. India became a part of the International Energy Agency only in March 2017, and I must thanks to, thanks in great deal rather, in big measure, to the efforts and support that we received from Dr. Fatih Birol. He truly is somebody who is concerned about India, who cares for all Indians, and somebody I believe deserves an honorary citizenship of India, maybe.
Working together with IEA has been a very enriching experience. I believe the effort that has gone in into making this report on the future of rail, particularly, the opportunities it throws up for energy and the environment is phenomenal. I know that they have really engaged across the world with railways, with the energy experts, with policymakers and come out with a holistic document, recognizing certain realities, yet setting very ambitious goals for nations across the world.
Of course, there is a rising demand for better quality transport, safer transport, more comfortable transport, efficient, reliable, cheap transport. And I suspect no other form of travel can give that other than the railways. In fact, most of us in this room will recognize that today a Rs 5 coin can barely buy you anything, but it can buy you a train ride on the Indian railways. And that is why it truly is a railway which serves the poor of India, which serves the common man.
In fact, railway contribution to carbon emissions or to pollution is much less on a passenger-kilometre basis compared to the roads, for example. It’s also a far more safer way to travel. And, therefore, one can clearly see a very big future for railways, particularly, in a country like India which is emerging to become a global economy, which is emerging to lead global growth as was rightly pointed out.
And I have no doubt in my mind the huge thrust, the huge investment that the railways has received in the last five years which has helped us make it much safer, helped us expand the network, helped us complete several stalled projects to the last mile delivery, and introduce modern technologies in the Indian railways hitherto unheard of.
In fact, the Vande Bharat Express train – India’s first indigenously designed and developed semi high-speed train, is going to lead another wave of both manufacturing and change the way of train travel in India for our passengers, helping us not only contribute to better travel in India, but across the world. And I do believe that truly is a engineering marvel that our engineers of the Indian Railways have successfully implemented. Also, our successful effort to convert diesel engine locomotives to electric locomotives is truly, I would say, innovative, and will be a game changer in the way we evolve going forward. One of the detriments to our plans for 100% electrification of the Indian railways was what we would do with all these diesel engines, thousands of diesel engines around the country.
Having found a very low-cost solution to this problem, we believe our effort to do a 100% conversion of the entire Indian Railways to electric traction is going to be a reality now and over the next few years given the huge pace of expansion of electrification. Just to set a context Dr Birol, five years ago the Indian railways had done about 600 odd kilometres of electrification across the country. Last year, we did over 4000 kilometres and for the current year, we hope to go to 6000 kilometres, additional rail track which is electrified.
To my mind, this would probably be the world’s fastest roll-out of electrification of railways ever seen before. In some sense, similar to our roll-out of the LED bulbs, about which you have been so generous in your comments. I still remember, when I became Power Minister, my colleague and good friend, Dr Ajay Mathur, who was heading the Bureau of Energy Efficiency, coming up to me with a cabinet note on what we should do to encourage better utilization of power and electricity in the country.
If I remember correctly Ajay, it was August-September 2014, I mean I fear that I will be misunderstood, but there were so many things to catch up on and there were so many areas to focus on that frankly until the day he came in August or September, I did not even know that there is a Bureau of Energy Efficiency under me. That was the vast span of work that the Power Ministry was working on at that point of time. And we were in a hurry to take electricity to the poorest of the poor, in the remotest village in the country. And our focus was largely on how within a short span of time, we can ensure that every citizen of this country has a right and an ability to enjoy electricity in this country, which we have successfully done within a period of five years, something which the world never imagined is possible.
But when Ajay brought out the story of LED bulbs as a part of that Cabinet proposal, it had an element of LED bulbs. I share this because I am very passionate about that project, personally. We used to give a Rs 100 subsidy for every LED bulb that was sold in the country. We had a government company which was engaged in promoting LED bulbs, which used to buy about 600,000 bulbs – less than a million bulbs in a year. The then price was about Rs 310, which would translate to about $4.5 at that point of time, when you added taxes and the cost of distribution, interest, marketing. We were able to sell it for about $8-9-10, so the government had to give a subsidy of a dollar and a half so that there would be some traction, some people would probably buy LED bulbs.
I felt that we should move out of this subsidy model, because the subsidy was becoming a constraint to the rapid roll-out of this very important energy efficiency device. Because, after all, I would have had a limitation and I think I know that more now over the last five days than I ever knew it before in the amount that one could give as subsidies to promote LEDs. So, maybe at best, we could have taken 600,000 to a million, a five million or 10 million a year.
Collectively, the team decided that we will bring down the cost of LED bulbs to a double-digit number. We worked with the industry. We worked with the private sector. Nobody knew how it’s going to happen. It’s one of those I think comments I like to shoot off where I just said it has to be double digit. I remember somebody asking me in one of the meetings, what do you mean by double-digit? I said double-digit is double-digit, it has to be below Rs 99.
And I am happy to report to all of you that we were able to transform the LED programme from 600,000 or a million or two million bulbs being sold in a year, if we include the private sector also, to a programme where we have about a million bulbs sold every single day in this country. One million bulbs sold every day.
And I think it is this massive roll-out and the highest degree of transparency to make it a corruption-free programme that helped us to bring down the prices by as much as 87% for every bulb that we were selling. Not only that, we took up the task of encouraging Indian manufacture of these bulbs, providing jobs to millions of our people who are now engaged in the whole value chain from manufacturing, assembling, packing, distributing, marketing. And ladies and gentlemen, I think it has been the biggest payback that I have known of any programme where the nation collectively has invested probably less than two billion dollars in the entire roll-out of LED bulbs, but has saved nearly seven billion dollars worth of electricity every year at the cost of barely two billion dollars.
And I believe that truly is the leadership that Prime Minister Modi has given to India, the scale at which programmes have been rolled out, the commitment to achieve never-heard-before targets, the confidence of being able to do things and the integrity of purpose and honesty in implementation that has helped transform India from a spirit of helplessness to one where every citizen aspires for a better quality of life which he richly deserves.
I will be reading your report Dr Birol with great interest. We are looking at making India a leader in the manufacturing space and the railways is going to be an important element to all aspects of manufacturing. We are looking at making our farmer’s income double for which we will have to provide more and more facilities to transport the farm produce, again where the railways can play an important role. We are looking at newer technologies and innovation in India in which the railways will play a forward looking effort, forward looking role. And as the report suggests that we certainly have huge potential for better technologies, for more efficient, particularly, energy-efficient technologies.
The report has very rightly recognized India’s and Indian Railways’ efforts both in safety, in energy efficiency, in passenger comfort, but clearly my team led by My Yadav and the various other officials in this room and the nearly 1.3 million railwaymen across the nation will not rest until we have truly made Indian railways the best railway in the world.
Thank you very much.

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