June 12, 2018

Speaking with CNN News18 on 4 years achievements of Ministries of Railways & Coal

Good evening, Namaskar, Adaab. Welcome to our special edition of Viewpoint. The Karnataka elections are over, the by-polls are over, four years – the 4th anniversary of Modi Sarkaar is also over. Best time perhaps for us then to reflect upon what has been achieved. What have been the key targets which have been obtained by the Modi Saarkar and what are the key challenges as we move ahead towards a big battle for 2019 and who better to answer all these questions than the person who appears to be the key trouble-shooter, man for all seasons I should say – Railways Minister and now looking after Finance as well, Mr Piyush Goyal. Always a pleasure seeing you Piyush, thank you so much for taking out time for us.

Q: Let me first begin by asking you. You have been one of the few Ministers who actually went through the entire gamut of all economic Ministries from where you started in 2014, now where you are in 2018. Give us a sense, give us a sense of what do you think has been achieved on the economic front, on the Railways front in these last 4 years?

A: Well, I think Prime Minister Modi took charge of the Government of India in very challenging times. The previous government had brought the economy to a stage of shambles, if I may say. Economic growth had fallen to just about, little above 4%, interest rates and inflation were both sky-high, inflation was almost double digit, fiscal deficits were reigning high, current account deficit was up. In some sense, it was a period where the policy paralysis had set in and not much seemed to be happening on any sector.

You will recall that they had raised FCNR(B) deposits of 32 or 35 billion dollars and barely managed to keep the Rupee stable, otherwise, it had gone up to Rs. 68-69 in 2013, interest rates at one shot had gone up by nearly 300 basis points, 3 per cent. And generally there was a sense of despair, gloom and doom kind of situation. Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi, Finance Minister Shri Arun Jaitley, all of them got down to repairing the economy, repairing the mood of the nation.

Suddenly, expectations were high and the government was committed to meeting the expectations particularly of the poor, the villagers, the farmers, the marginalized sections of society, the middle class. And over 4 years, I see before my eyes a transformative journey of change – change in the mindset of people, change in the work culture of government, change in the integrity levels of government.

We have yet to see a government which has in 4 years been able to bring about so many changes to the way, business is conducted in India, to bring about honesty and transparency in the working of government, to bring about good governance practices in the government, to attack black money, to attack illicit business transactions with such a heavy hand. You saw during this period, the scale and speed with which delivery of government projects happened to the last man at the bottom of the pyramid.

In some sense, the Antyodaya philosophy which we have inherited from Pandit Deendayal Upadhyay, where we believe the first right on the nation’s resources is of the poorest of the poor. We were able to actually take projects of government to the homes of the poorest living in the villages, after all nearly 31 crore bank accounts being opened in this short period, almost every family being committed to get a Ujjwala free gas connection and people actually getting rid of wood burning and coal burning for cooking which has a transformational impact on the health of our women of this country.

The way we have been able to take electricity first to every village and now going to every home in the country so where the world has planned that every home should get electricity by 2030, India will do it in 2018 – 12 years ahead of the rest of the world. The scale at which LEDs have been distributed, for example, in the country sold at prices which are barely 12-13% of the earlier prices and thereby at an investment of less than 1 billion dollars, today, the country is saving nearly 6-7 billion dollars of electricity bills every year – Rs 45,000 crore is the saving only in the consumers’ electricity bills. See the speed and scale at which renewable energy, see this big attack on bank defaulters which was all the time going under the carpet but is now coming out before the people.

Q: So let me take all these points one by one. And it’s a rarity the television anchor allows a Minister, a big Newsmaker to speak at length, but I think it’s important for the viewers. Because I think you have given us a good template for what lies in store for us as we move towards 2019. So, let me take everything one by one – you said that there is hope, there is optimism on the minds of people, but I remember a few months back, when I was talking to you the RBI Sentiment Analysis Report had come up and it suggests that there seems to be a big gap between what Minister Piyush Goyal would like to believe exists in India and the actual reality on the ground. Do you believe that the concept of less jobs being created, do you believe the problem of people not really perhaps benefiting from the kind of well-meaning schemes which have been launched by the government, is that a cause of concern for you?

A: Well, I think you are looking at it as hope, I see conviction on the ground. I see trust on the ground. After all, election after election in states, we have seen governments being changed with the BJP and NDA partners coming into power. Most recent in Karnataka, you see the Congress not getting the single largest party. We missed out by just a few seats. Clearly, the Congress was rejected by the people of India. I see that a lot of good has happened, lot of good continues to happen to the people in their homes, in their lives across classes including the middle class.

We had just put together a deck and as we put it together, we were ourselves astonished by the amount of things that have happened which sometimes you don’t realize when it’s in piecemeal, how the impact of work of this government. I will give you a simple example – the middle class could never easily imagine becoming the owner of their own house with interest rates in double digits. Today, interest rates of home loans are down, on top of it, the Government of India gives you a six and half percent interest reduction, six and half percent interest subvention on a loan up to 6 lakh rupees, a 4 per cent interest subvention subsidy on loan up to Rs. 9 lakh and loan up to Rs. 12 lakh – 3% interest subvention. Now that’s a huge saving. On a net present value itself, it’s nearly Rs. 3 lakh. If it was calculated on the life of 20 year loan, a person benefits nearly Rs. 5-6 lakh for the house that he buys.

Q: But then what explains the RBI’s circular to banks that even when you require a loan of 2 lakh rupees, the amount of paperwork which is required, the amount of collaterals which are required, sometimes, may be discouraging the banks to give the loans that you are talking about?

A: I don’t think so… I am sorry… Well what RBI does, you can ask RBI about it, but I am sorry, if you are suggesting that there is a lot of paperwork, all that the bank wants is to ensure that that money is going to buy a house or an accommodation or shelter for the family. All that the bank ensures is that you are a person with creditworthiness so you have some income, you are having enough income to be able to repay that loan and possibly an insurance cover. So, in the event of an unfortunate mishap, the loan is covered by an insurance cover and I don’t think beyond that they are not asking for any collateral securities or any additional securities. So, I think you must get your facts right. You must get your facts right so that people don’t get wrong impression watching your channel.

Q: Are you saying that…. Suppose, let’s say I wish to avail a loan of Rs. 5 lakh. Are you saying it’s a relatively easy task for me in comparison to, let’s say the difficulties which may have existed earlier?

A: Very clearly, because, a) the income that you will have to prove is much less now than what it was earlier with the Government of India giving a six and a half per cent interest subvention for 20 years. So effectively, almost Rs. 5-6 lakh of your interest burden is shaved off over 20 years. Its net present value is nearly Rs 3 lakh, today’s value brought forward from 20 years. So, I think there are so many things that have happened that are happening which on the face of it a television anchor may not really find very exciting.

For you, it is very exciting that you speak about a petrol price increase but there are two wheeler owners, in the whole month may be buying 4-5 litres of petrol but he also buys several kilos of dal and rather than paying Rs. 150-160 per kilo for Dal, today, we have ensured that for years to come in the future, we won’t have to see that type of a situation. We have added a lot of capacity in the production of the dals, pulses.

Q: So should I look at it this way that a car owner today for Mr Goyal is someone who can, may be, afford to spend more and, therefore, if he has to pay more to buy more fuel, that’s alright?

A: Bhupendra Ji, what I see in the car owner is a responsible citizen of India, what I see in a car owner is that while certainly, we also wish him to get much cheaper petrol, diesel and get the benefits of that.

Q: I mean if I own a car, my life is tough. If I own a scooter, my life is easy. Is that the way to look at it?

A: Unfortunately, for you, that’s a very myopic thinking, that’s the best that probably you can come up with.

Q: So counter me? Prove me wrong.

A: I am countering you that your wife still needs to go and buy fruits and vegetables and we have seen the lowest inflation in these four years on foodstuffs. That’s a matter of fact, it’s not something that I have.. it’s the RBI records or the records of the CPI Indices. Today, we are at 2% Fruit and Vegetable Inflation Index. CPI consumer indices have been at the lowest inflation in the last 4 years, at times, going down to 2% and 1%. You are getting low cost interest loans, whether to buy that same car which you are talking about, whether for all your consumer durables, whether for your home – interest rates have fallen drastically over the last 4 years.

In terms of your spending on other items, airfares have been low over the last 4 years and I can list out a 100 items where life has transformed for each one of us. So for me, “Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas” is my credo. Whether it’s a car owner, whether it’s a two-wheeler owner, whether it’s a person who travels by train, by air, by road transport, for me, every citizen of India is important and this government has been able to impact the lives of every citizen of India. Maybe, on a current contemporary subject, you may be able to score a brownie point or two. But I think every car owner in India is also conscious that when he changed the LED bulbs in his home, he was able to bring down his electricity bill by almost 30-40-50%. I understand, I have full faith and confidence in that car owner that he understands that when he pays interest to the bank on his home loan or his consumer durable loan, he is paying much less.

I am sure the wives of these car owners or the car owners who are themselves ladies understand that when we are paying that little bit extra for petrol it’s going to improve the infrastructure on roads, on highways, on railways. That’s where this money is going. And if I may conclude my little bit long argument. Every one of these citizens of India are also conscious that as against the Congress Prime Minister who had said that Rs. 100 I give from Delhi, only Rs. 15 reaches the last man. This is the government of Prime Minister Modi which has ensured that Rs. 3,65,000 crore of subsidy money goes direct into the bank accounts of the citizens of India, to the beneficiaries, to the people who really deserve it and that money, if you extrapolate in the same way as Rajiv Gandhi was distributing or as the  Congress leadership was distributing, they would have to send Rs. 20 lakh crore so that Rs. 3,65,000 crore reach the deserving beneficiaries.

Q: The more I listen to you and the fantastic narrative and the template that you giving us in terms of what has been achieved by your party and your government. I get a sense that from where you were in 2014 where there was this feeling that BJP is only and only thinking of the richie rich class, the Suit Boot Ki Sarkar jibe which was thrown against your government by Rahul Gandhi, has that forced you to do some mid-course correction?

A: Well I think Mr Rahul Gandhi can keep throwing jibes and some television anchors may enjoy those jibes, but for us, we have a deep conviction and commitment that “Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas” is our guiding philosophy and principle of government. Antyodaya, articulated by Pandit Deendayal Upadhyay, is the ideology on which the Bhartiya Janta Party anchors itself. As I said earlier, the poorest of the poor, the last man at the bottom of the pyramid is the focus of my work but the work spans all sections of society. I have to and I wish to and I will ensure a better future for every child in this country, for every mother in this country, for every youth of this country, for the Dalits and OBCs or the socially and financially, economically marginalized sections of society, for every women who deserves safety and security. This is one government which cares for the disabled or differently-abled as much as it cares for the senior citizens. This is a government for one and all in this country.

Q: Do you get concerned somewhere there is so much of criticism which is mounted by Opposition parties. This is a government which does not look after the interests of the very communities that you are talking about, the Dalits for instance. Does it worry you that there is so much of camping which goes on against the government?

A: Well, by their saying so, it does not become so. For example, in some places there have been some problems that people have encountered or have agitated upon. Many times they may be prompted, they could be politically prompted.

Q: But they are far away from reality according to you?

A: I think it’s quite different from reality. Now, take the case of the farmers in Maharashtra, for example, right? And we had the farmers come in and talk to our Chief Minister, they had very-very fruitful and very healthy discussions and then we arranged trains to send them back to their hometown. If any section of society desires or has some issue and desires to discuss with the political leadership, I think we are duty bound to do that. Should we close our mind to their questions or to their concerns or should we listen to them.

But, after all, that was one section. They were largely coming from one area – Adivasi farmers. We listened to them and all their issues were sorted out by the Chief Minister but there are in Maharashtra, crores of farmers. Now if 4 or 5 or 7000 farmers who came there at that point of time, have certain issues, I think we should respect that and listen to them. This is a government which has its ear to the ground and has a ear always open to listen to the people of the country. We have a direct mechanism where Prime Minister also interacts with the people. We have robust feedback mechanisms – both the party machinery and the government mechanism. So I think this is a government that has responded to the peoples’ desires and hopes and aspirations.

Q: Why are you not managing then to communicate as effectively with your allies, for instance? You talk about Maharashtra, your own home state. Your good friend Uddhav Thackeray. Look at the kind of statements which are being made Sir, even as something as sensitive as Prime Minister’s security?

A: Well, I think only he can answer that or his colleagues can answer that. I think, as far as we are concerned, every person’s security in this country is important. More so, the security of the Hon’ble Prime Minister who is today the pride of India, who represents India in the world and makes our head go high with a lot of pride in being Indian after many-many years of almost being treated very-very poorly by international community. Well, the party is still in government both at the Centre and in the State. So, I think if they have some comments. We don’t take those comments very seriously.

Q: Is this just political one-upmanship Sir. What is this sir? Why is the Shiv Sena and the BJP constantly at loggerheads with each other?

A: I am sure he or his colleagues can answer that. And I don’t know whether they are looking at giving up all their security if they are so much unconcerned about the Hon’ble Prime Minister’s security.

Q: Look at the flip side of that. You know, all the achievements that you have given us on one side. Look at how the Opposition parties are responding, not just your allies. So in Uttar Pradesh, the Bahujan Samaj Party, the Samajwadi Party come together. Now I understand that there is a possibility of another alliance coming up in West Bengal. One doesn’t know what will happen in Andhra Pradesh. It’s for all the strategy, you know, you are also looked at as Chanakya of your party. You ran the 2014…..How will you deal with all these numbers coming together?

A: Absolutely, not my credo. But I can say that, I can say with confidence the Prime Minister Narendra Modi ji and the Party President Shri Amit Shah Ji, both of them work for the country, for the people of the country. Prime Minister is looking after the government to ensure that welfare reaches all sections of society. Mr Amit Shah has galvanized to make Bhartiya Janta Party the principle pole of Indian politics – the largest political party in the world with over a hundred million members. And today, we have machinery geared up to ensure that we will come back in 2019 with even better majority.

Q: You lost the by-election, does it bother you?

A: I don’t think so. The local issues prevail on by-elections. We don’t have Prime Minister, Amit Shah, all of us campaigning; we don’t go and literally sit down and look after the elections.

Q: So all these Opposition parties coming together is not a cause of concern for you?

A: They did that earlier also. In UP, you had the grand alliance of Samajwadi and Congress.

Q: UP ke ladke?

A: Pata nahin kya-kya, in fact, ek to bade baddhe gaane ke upar that, kya hai? Ye Saath Pasand Hai… If you remember the original song, it’s very unfortunate that that’s the best slogan that they could come up with. And you saw what happened, BJP got and our allies got 324-325 seats – never happened before in the history of Uttar Pradesh. So, please bear in mind, these unholy alliances actually have a counter reaction amongst the people. They remember how the Congress pulled the rug under IK Gujral, they remember how the Congress pulled the rug under Deve Gowda and we can almost see that happening already – the government is not even 3 days old. How many days back did they get sworn in? Three days back.

You remember what they did with Chandra Shekhar Ji. On what ground, that supposedly, two police cops who were supposed to be there for security of Mr Rajiv Gandhi, possibly that was the cause to withdraw support. Now, I think a party, which as Mr Jaitley rightly pointed out, has already become a fringe element in Indian politics and a leadership which has failed to bring the party, any glory, is certainly not going to be able to reach out to the people and get their support and their confidence.

Q: So 2019 will be Sir what? Will it be a presidential contest between Narendra Modi on one side. Is it Modi versus the rest? Is that what it’s all about?

A: It will be a contest of good governance, good leadership and a good future for the people of India against the motley crowd which cannot go beyond dynasty, which cannot go beyond petty political interest, which cannot think of the nation first but are only concerned about their own very existence.

Q: My final segment is about corruption. You know, you spoke about the kind of moves that have been made by your government to crackdown against corruption. Do you believe the Nirav Modi episode, the Vijay Mallya episode, is it hurting the very basic commitment that Modi Sarkar had given in 2014?

A: Absolutely not! So, if we unearth what has gone wrong over the years, particularly, during the UPA government and the Congress-led party’s so-called economists and leaders of trade and business running that government. If we are unearthing all the scams of that government how does that put us in the dock?

Q: Nirav Modi went away, he ran out of the country when you were in power?

A: There are processes… there are legal processes and within that legal process, we cannot stop the travel of everybody. I mean, I cannot stop you Bhupendra from travelling and I don’t know what else.. but I don’t know as of now what else you have done. So until the fraud came to light, obviously, you cannot stop the travel of anybody. So to that extent, I think responsible channels like yours will have to educate the people that all of these scams have their genesis in the Congress government’s regime. All of these indiscriminate lending, almost three times the loan book of these banks increased between 2008 and 2014, where did all this money go? What was the monitoring of this money? Why did we inherit a stage in 2014 where the stress in Indian Banks was so high but hidden under the carpet or ever greened by fresh loans or restructured under various schemes? Why did the Congress not tell the world but the reality was, in the regime? How did they allow fiscal deficit to go up from two and a half percent to 6 per cent in the course of one year? How did they pump prime the economy artificially by just indiscriminate lending to borrowers who had no creditworthiness? Why did this not come to light in the Congress government?

Q: Can I put this question directly Sir. Mr Chidambaram, who happens to be a former Union Finance Minister, is currently being investigated. Each day, I am seeing that he is being questioned by ED, he has appeared before the CBI but low and behold, he comes out and he is literally mocking, he is mocking the security agencies. It’s all he is just suggesting… I have nothing to hide I have been called, I am giving written answers. What does this show you Sir? Can Mr Chidambaram be sent to jail? Do you think that’s a possibility?

A: Well, that’s for the investigating agencies and the investigation to investigate and then take to the judiciary. This government doesn’t interfere in the processes of Investigation. We have scrupulously maintained that the law should take its own course. I think Mr Chidambaram and all the actions of him and his family are now before the public. We have all seen what were the actions, what was happening and it’s for the investigative agencies and the law courts to take the final action.

Q: So tell me sir in this entire template. The portfolio that you are holding right now, it is supposed to be the ultimate bridge between the Aam Aadmi – the common man of India. I mean, after all, Indian Railways is used by the maximum number of people in the world. From where we were in 2014 and where we are in 2018, going up to 2019. Is Indian Railways going to offer us secure, punctual travel? Is punctuality a cause of concern for you?

A: Well, I think safety of our passengers has taken the highest priority in our government. We have expanded our efforts to make the railway a far more safer place. You saw that last year, we had the best safety record ever in the Indian Railways. Suddenly, when you are looking at covering the backlog of track renewable, rail replacement of several years in such a short period, you are going to be required to stop trains to keep replacing tracks and track replacement is not at one place, it’s across the railways.

Last year, we did 4,400 km of track replacement, it’s not a joke and it’s not at one patch, it’s at thousands and hundreds of places, highest ever in the history of Indian railways. We did electrification of 4,087 km. It used to be 650 or 700 in 2013-14. Now, this will make the Indian railways clean, it will reduce pollution in the nation, it will bring about efficiency, we’ll save 12, 13 or may be 15 thousand crores every year, which otherwise would be a cost on the consumer. Otherwise I would have to increase fairs, otherwise I would have to take subsidy which is also taxpayers’ money, it’s the money that should be used for the welfare of the people. So, we are working towards systemic and structural improvements which will help the country for decades to come.

Q: So your latest proposal which has come, of bringing in bureaucrats through a lateral entry. Is that a part of that reforms process of the bureaucracy?

A: Well, I think this is a government which has continuously looked at change, looked at transformation and looked at options. So you saw we brought an outsider as the Managing Director of Bank of Baroda. See how successful that experiment has been. I remember many years ago, one or two officials had come through a lateral entry into government. For that matter, I think Dr Manmohan Singh himself was a lateral entry; was not an IAS officer – an economist who came into the Finance Ministry and then held several positions between RBI, Prime Minister’s Economic Advisory Council, Finance Ministry, Prime Minister. Almost 30-35 years, he had some position or the other continuously in government. Of course, it’s another matter that in his 30 years, we see the state of affairs in this country, the levels of corruption.

Q: So, are you planning to do something similar in the railways as well. I mean, I’ll again go back to punctuality, for instance?

A: It’s not yet being considered but I don’t know, if the government decides to look at that. I am sure the railway administration will be open to that suggestion. But as of now, we are looking at some Joint Secretary level positions; let’s see how the response is.

Q: So, finally sir. In 2014, it was “Abki Baar, Modi Sarkar”. In 2019, what’s the slogan which is coming from Piyush Goyal’s stable?

A: We still have to decide that. We are one year away from the election, almost 11 months away. At the right time, the right slogan will come out and we will be working towards another absolute majority, so that we can serve the people of India relentlessly with the same dedication and speed with which we have been working for the last 4 years. The people of India are with Mr Modi. They trust his leadership and I am confident that the BJP and our allies in the NDA will this time better our very good performance of 2014.

Alright, Piyush Goyal! Thank you so much for speaking to us.

Thank You!

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