January 17, 2019

Speaking at Outlook Business Leading Edge 2019, in Mumbai

Finally provided by Mr. Vajpayee when he was Prime Minister, some 15-18 years ago, but very little work had happened on the ground when we came into office in 2014. But an aggressive push helped us complete that project and it has a game-changing dimension for the people of Assam, for the people of Arunachal Pradesh, for the North-East and for the armed forces who need to reach the border very quickly in the times of emergency, in the times of distress.

Fortunately, we have Mr. Prabhu here who was handling the railway portfolio in a very outstanding fashion, who really gave a thrust to this Bogibeel project and provided the funds, provided the leadership required to complete a project in time and we were able to actually implement it.

Similarly, the Train-18 project which he initiated when he was Railway Minister, we were able to complete in a time bound manner, and for the first time in 50 years the Indian Railways has developed a train set which is completely indigenous, designed in India, made in India and made in record time of 18 months, and truly will be the defining feature of the changing way Indian Railways will serve the passengers.

And we have a pretty big share of passengers travelling in the rail through the year. We have about eight billion passengers going through the rail network every year. And I can keep reading out a number of steps, whether it is in the finance world, the Benami Properties Act, for example, passed some 18 odd years ago or 28 years ago, but we had to only notify the rules which were not done. And we notified them and implemented it and we are seeing people with Benami properties being actually prosecuted, being actually brought to book.

I remember the western expressway, which is on the periphery of Delhi, which had been pending for about 15 years which Mr. Nitin Gadkari completed, will completely change the travel dynamics of New Delhi, the national capital, but took us 15 years. And that, ladies and gentlemen, has been an effort of this government to change the way projects are conceptualized, finalized, planned and then implemented.

In some sense, learning from the Japanese example, where I think they take more time in the planning and structuring of the design of the project, possibly than in actual implementation on the ground. And this, I think, you would observe in any of the projects that this government took up. If I can highlight a few initiatives you just mentioned about the LED bulb programme. Now the LED bulb on the face of it looks like a simple bulb emitting lumination for the room or for the country, but when I put in the right perspective, we launched this project on 5th of January 2015. We set before us a target to distribute seven 770 million LED bulbs in the country in four years and we had estimated that will by and large replace all the incandescent bulbs which we have been using for donkey’s years and, therefore, save electricity, reduce the energy bills of the people and reduce the pollution, reduce the impact on environment because of higher consumption of electricity.

Most people either ridiculed it or were in a state of disbelief that this is at all possible. I am happy to report to you, ladies and gentlemen, we gave out the first bulb on 1st May 2015. We have not even completed four years of that project and the country today has already seen the sale or distribution of 1.3 billion LED bulbs in less than four years, almost twice the original number we started off with. And I think by the time we complete the four years, it will be twice what we had originally envisaged, thereby saving nearly 40,000 crores that is about six billion US dollars of electricity bills every year, which the consumers of India are paying, reducing carbon emissions by about 80 million tonnes every year because of reduced requirement for electricity. and has saved the nation about 20 billion dollars of additional investment which would otherwise be required to provide that kind of energy every year.

Of course, I can go into much more detail about the peak loads being reduced, and since Mr. Prabhu and I both also share the power portfolio. He was the original reformer in the power sector in the Vajpayee government, who really brought in the first wave of reform in the power sector. It was truly a privilege for me that I could learn from his experiences and bring in these kind of projects into the country.

But the scale, ladies and gentlemen, helped us to bring down the cost of LED lighting by about 87%. So a bulb which used to cost to the government of India when we bought it about 310 Indian rupees the government would finally purchase it at about 40-45 rupees. And this reduction in pricing not only helped the people of India to use LED bulbs in a big way but has now become a project which the world is embracing.

So everywhere in the world that I go, if I am engaging with the Power Ministers in my earlier role, one comment was for sure that India led the world in making  LEDs a household feature. India led the world to bring down the prices of LEDs, India led the world in making the world a better place to live in, thereby reducing carbon emissions, reducing the energy needs of almost every country in the world. And this price reduction was possible only because we implemented to scale, implemented fast in a time-bound manner and, of course, implemented honestly.

Another project that may not have much resonance with many of you here who would not have faced the ignominy of living without electricity, living without a toilet, not having clean cooking facilities at home. It’s something which many of us in this room may never have experienced. Madam Mahalaxmi asked me to step on to the hills over there, outside the room and make a wish. Many people are superstitious of sharing a wish, but I have no hesitation in telling you that I only wish that as we dream of a new India, as we aspire for a better India for every citizen of this country, as we wish that every citizen has a roof, has shelter over his head, has electricity 24/7, has a toilet in his home, clean drinking water, good healthcare facilities, quality education, digital connectivity, I think if we can all collectively work to meet that goal and we have set an aggressive timeline of 15th August 2022 when India turns 75.

If we can achieve that in this defined time frame I think there can no better aspiration, there can be no better future to look forward to, no better dream to have as I did over there than to see that developed India, an India where every citizen has at least the basic amenities taken care of and that is the India we have been trying work out, that is the India where every rupee of the tax that all you are paying is being spent for, that is the India which funds Soubhagya programme under which we have ensured that every willing consumer in this country is guaranteed and has been given an electricity connection.

We have the last couple of million or so left where also we are actually reaching out to people. We are not sitting in the office and asking people come and take an electricity connection. Our teams are fanning out into the villages to make sure that every willing consumer at least fills in just a short half a page as an application and we can guarantee him an electricity connection and give it to him. That is the effort that has been put in over the last four years under the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan to ensure that sanitation standards in India go up and I am happy to report to you that as against one out of three woman having the facility of a toilet in India we had only 34% sanitation coverage in India in 2014. Today it is 95%. We have built nearly 9.5 crore – 95 million toilets have been built in the last four years to give our sisters, our mothers a life of dignity. It is a matter of shame for all of us collectively as Indians that it took us 70 years to achieve that.

Most women in this country particularly in rural India and also in many of our slum areas in the cities used to cook using coal, using wood, fig leaves. Some reports suggest that nearly 400 cigarettes worth of smoke were being pumped into a woman’s body and the family’s body living in their home after all this smoke would be in the atmosphere. The country had only about 130 million families who had LPG connections in 2014.

I am happy to share with you, we have added another 120 million homes who have today got cooking gas LPG connection. We added more LPG connections in four and a half years than were probably given out in the last 40 or 50 years. And I think in the next 6 to 8 months there will be no home in this country which will be deprived of clean cooking facility using an LPG cylinder, and our next step is to make sure that we can provide that through piped gas, so that ultimately all our homes can be connected through piped gas, like it would be in any part of the developed world. And I can go on and on about it.

We built about twelve and a half million homes in the last four years, four and a half years as against the typical two and half million homes built in the five years before that for the poor of India. In addition to that, we have come up with a programme where for the common man, the middle class, six and a half percent interest subvention, a subsidy amounting to six and a half percent on a loan up to six lakh rupees is provided. And a typical small home for a common middle class person may not be in Mumbai but most parts of India would not cost more than nine lakhs, ten lakhs rupees.

We are trying to empower our middle class to become home owners and ensure that in the next 3 to 4 years we will have everybody having a shelter over his head and this is what we believe is the aspiration of India. This is what we believe is essential for businesses to prosper, because a happy population, a population whose basic needs are met will provide us that happy workforce, will provide us skilled manpower, will provide us people who are educated, will provide us people who are healthy.

The healthcare program is going to cover 500 million people with free healthcare and many of us here may be aware that many families would go into distress for lack of ability to pay for healthcare. Many middle-class families would get into penury, because they could not afford healthcare. And I think that is the challenge that is the commitment with which we have set out very often making very ambitious programs, very ambitious goals. Many times it seems impossible whether we will be able to achieve that.

But I think it is important and that is the leading edge that I think we all desire to see in business, in politics, in government, in every walk of life. The desire to dream big, the desire to aspire for big goals, the desire to have very audacious ambitions, very large targets – because unless we dream and unless we dare to dream big, we certainly are not going to be able to see a new India, we are certainly not going be able to meet the aspirations of a youthful India, an India which is connected to the global world, an India which is integrating with the world, particularly through the advent of digital technologies.

And I am sure, with the collective effort of all sections of society, with the effort of business, with the effort of government, with the effort of media, with the collective effort of all of us in this room, there is no dream that we cannot fulfil, there is no promise that needs to remain unkept.

Let us go for an India where every citizen gets the basic needs of life where every Indian knows that he has an equal opportunity, where every Indian knows that the country and the people of the country care for a united, for a strong India whose boundaries are secured, whose people live with the highest degree of social security, physical security, whose entire life should be focused on a better future for those who possibly could not board the train.

I think most of us in this room also may have sometime or the other had a humble background, may have come from some village, may have come from some smaller past. My own father, for instance, studied under streetlights to secure his engineering degree. I often used to joke that may be Mr. Modi made me the Power Minister knowing that background since they were colleagues, and gave me the job to ensure that every citizen of this country gets electricity, no child has to  study under a streetlight ever again, no woman has to be embarrassed and cannot use the toilet between sunrise and sunset in this country, to make India one of the greatest countries in the world, to bring not that 5 trillion dollar economy to India, but to aspire to be the world’s largest economy to overtake all the other economies in the world.

And I think we as Indians should collectively be aspiring to once again make India that Sone Ki Chidya, that golden bird that we at once upon a time are proud to have inherited. I think we are lucky, we are very fortunate to have a rich legacy, a rich heritage behind us. Let us bring back that glory to India. Let us collectively work to make India a superpower, as they say in the Onida ad “Neighbour’s envy but owner’s pride”.

Thank you

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