Ladies and gentlemen. At the outset let me congratulate the Indian Railways and the Google Arts and Culture Association for this wonderful initiative, which was proposed by Google sometime back and in a way is a labour of love that colleagues in Google, colleagues in the Indian Railways have collaborated to create over a period of almost 2 years of sheer hard work, research, inquiry and execution.
My congratulations to all the people who have worked on this wonderful project and I do believe it’s a great day today, it kind of coincides with Google completing 20 years yesterday and the World Tourism Day, “International Tourism Day” that was celebrated yesterday and in some sense this partnership of Google and the Railways is also in a way going to promote tourism, particularly at the venue of the function at the Rail Museum in Delhi.
I would also like to congratulate all my four colleagues Mr. Yuvraj Pradhan from Darjeeling, Ms. Wali from the Nilgiri Mountain Railway, Mr. Hardev Kumar from the Kalka-Shimla Railway and Mr. Sudershan Kumar from the Kangra Valley Railway for their effort and all the work that they have put in towards making the Indian Railways once again a charming experience for all our passengers, for all the stakeholders and everybody associated with the Indian Railways.
In fact, it is often said that civilization is built over a millennia by countless generations, each generation leaving its footprints in the sands of time. A culture must preserve these footprints to remember what it was and where it came from. And the Indian Railways being a 165-year old organisation truly has a lot of material which we need to preserve, which we should leave behind for posterity.
Whenever we are trying to look at the evolution of the transport system in India all of these artifacts, all of these rich traditions, culture, heritage, history will play an important role for the inquisitive research for the next generation to understand what behind, what for so many years and how the Indian Railways has evolved.
In fact, Mark Twain had once said, “Our most valuable and most instructive materials in the history of man are treasured up in India”. And in some sense, the Indian Railways also has within a lot of treasure moments, which the world will someday be looking up to to see how different technologies, how different generations of people evolved over the years, over decades, over centuries.
In fact, Mumbai has a very special place in the Railways having been the first railway line set up in India. It was be back on 16th of April, 1853 that the first train started running between Bori Bunder and Thane. Today, I am somewhere in between these two situations at Bombay Central and to see the digitisation programme being launched in the national capital from my home city of Mumbai is truly a matter of happiness and pride for me and my colleagues in Mumbai.
I believe we will be setting up 22 digital screens all across the Indian railway system at different locations in India showcasing this project. Of course, I would like you to also consider bringing in the three-dimensional aspect, so that it becomes more charming, more enjoyable. I think just video walls may not attract as much traction in this day and age of films and in this day and age of television.
Probably, the three-dimensional effect and living that experience in some form or the other, maybe people sitting in a train compartment with their goggles or with the equipment on literally visually experiencing what the Darjeeling track is like, what the Shimla journey is like or what the journey now in Kashmir is like, maybe a more interesting experience which I hope will be the next steps where this project will take us forward.
In fact, the need to preserve over heritage has been felt even more after the National Museum of Brazil had a severe fire very recently. It was a 200-year old museum and that fire destroyed a lot of the history and culture and heritage that was preserved at that museum in Brazil. Of course, now they are trying to digitally recreate many of those artifacts, but 200-year old museum and many century-old history got lost within a matter of hours. So, digitalisation truly opens up the opportunity to preserve a lot of that history and culture, at least in digital form, which I hope will outlive many of us and will certainly get safeguarded in the event of natural disasters or any acts of God, which would otherwise lose a lot of value for the Indian Railways.
Of course, this partnership between Google and the Indian Railways has also got the dimension of the Wi-Fi, which we have proliferated all across the country. I believe Google and the Railways have done over 400 stations together, truly demonstrating how powerful a collaboration can be and how it can be used to serve the people of India. I am given to understand that the Wi-Fi available at these stations and the 300 more that the Indian Railways and RailTel have set up totaling to about 711 stations now. These 711 stations today have faster Wi-Fi access than any other place in the country or any other system in the country.
I am not being boastful about it but I would like to take the opportunity to compliment both Google and the Indian Railway teams and the RailTel team who have actually made this happen. I believe we have had some wonderful results out of this. A child of a coolie possibly got admission or was successful in a UPSC examination studying out of the Wi-Fi that was available at the railway station.
I was in Raipur only last week or earlier this week, and when I visited the station late evening the local public representatives, the Ministers and MLAs accompanying me were mentioning that late night when possibly the passenger footfall is not much, not too many passengers at the station, you find loads of people coming to the railway station, particularly the youth, young boys and girls, to use the Wi-Fi and to enjoy the service that is being provided at Raipur railway station.
I believe it portends very well for the future and in some sense confirms my desire that we should take the Wi-Fi to over 6000 stations across the Indian network, so that local people in the vicinity of those stations, particularly the poor, particularly the marginalised sections of society, who otherwise may not be able to get such kind of high-speed broadband Internet access, who may otherwise not be able to afford the commercially available internet facilities, but would be able to actually come down to their nearest station and use the Wi-Fi at the nearest station to expand their knowledge and explore the horizons of technology, explore what’s happening in the world, familiarize themselves and train themselves to become connected, to enjoy the fruits of technology and development, and possibly become better citizens of this country.
And therefore, I would like to thank my team which has worked to make this 710 stations happen, thank Google for their partnership and I believe we have already offered another 5000 odd stations for public-private partnership through a website and that website is called railsahyog.com. On the railsahyog.com, we have invited partnerships similar to the one we had for the first 400 stations, invited people to come and make their offers and pick up these stations, so that they could actually expand this Wi-Fi system and proliferate it through the Indian Railways. Maybe Google also may like to make some offer, Anandan, and expand our partnership with you so that we can take up more stations.
Albeit, I wish we should do it fast because every day lost is a day lost in the life of one of my brothers or sisters or a child in a village, who is getting deprived of this kind of facility. So, for me, every day matters and I would personally wish and desire that my teams work to make this project a success in the next 120 days, so that we can have Wi-Fi across the Indian Railways in the next 120 days in the spirit of partnership with which we have made the first 400 stations successful with Google. We are working I think with Power Grid for another hundred stations and I am sure going forward we can rapidly wrap this up based on our experience of the first 700 stations.
I was seeing some of the presentations that Mr. Sood was making, and truly I think the Indian Railways brings with it a lot of charming experiences that the generation today, the youth of today have no clue about. And I must compliment Mr. Sood for his research, for all the effort that he and his team have put in because all these are really are, as they say in Hindi our “दरोहर”. It’s a very valuable treasure, valuable heritage that the Railways is caring forward.
I am given to understand that this particular project would probably one of the largest cultural heritage digitisation project in India, or possibly even in the whole of Asia Pacific. And therefore, I must say it’s really a very-very valuable contribution that your team has given us. I believe you have 3000-plus digital assets now, a 150-plus virtual reality experiences and 75-plus online stories already available under this project.
I compliment you and I would urge you to expand this because given the 165-year history I think these numbers would probably expand and ramp up rapidly, which would make it the world’s largest experience. And any support that you require from the Railways, I assure you the 1.3 million person team working for the Indian Railways will all support you in whichever and whatever way we can to make this the world’s largest digitisation programme to preserve the culture of the Indian Railways.
And towards that end I think also ramping it up to other locations across the country, I was a little sad to see Mumbai is not included, my own home city is not included in the list of 22 and I would urge the teams to please expand this list to cover all the zones. Many zones are left out so we have nine zones. I wish the balance eight zones also pick up some places and my home city of Mumbai should certainly be included in this digitisation programme also, particularly since the whole railway story started from here.
I am told that seven stations in Central Railway and five in Western Railway have gone in for digitization. Now, let’s merge all these various efforts so that what you have done can be also clubbed with what is being planned in the national effort and what they have done can also be available to you and all of you work together in the team spirit to make this three-dimensional and I don’t know at some later stage four-dimensional. Why can we not even plan a four dimensional digital experience for the people of India.
So from the Nilgiri mountains to the CSMT station, let’s help the people of India relive their childhood, relive their childhood of the train journey to Matheran or a journey at the Darjeeling toy train. Let’s show them the breathtaking Kangra Valley. Let’s make sure the Kalka-Shimla experience can be enjoyed by somebody in Erode or in Coimbatore. Let’s give the people of India, the 1.3 billion people of India an experience of what the 1.3 million Railway employees are doing for the people, for serving the people of India.
So, this will be the gift from 1.3 million railway team, railway employees to the 1.3 billion citizens of India. My best wishes to your programme. I am sure it will give a big boost to tourism. It will encourage the railway men working, railway men and woman, working to serve our passengers, it will encourage their efforts, and at the same time it will encourage and it will change the view that the people of India have towards the Indian Railways. They will be more sensitive to the hard work, to the efforts that my team of 1.3 million is putting in to serve the country and, collectively, this will also show how public-private partnerships can truly survive, can truly serve and can truly empower the people of India.
Thank you Chairman Railway Board, thank you Anandan and the team from Google and thank you my team in the Indian Railways for making this project happen.
September 26, 2018 Speaking at World Energy Policy Summit: New World, New Opportunities, in New Delhi