January 24, 2018

Speaking at ‘Fueling sustainable growth in India’ along with Shri Dharmendra Pradhan, at Davos, Switzerland

Thank you Chandrajit, my dear friend and colleague Dharmendraji, Venkat, Shobhna, all the esteemed friends from India, from other parts of the world, ladies and gentlemen. First of all, I was wondering whether Shobha is going to invite all of us to go for Yoga after this, and I was very concerned about the rest of the day after this.

I think one stark feature that comes to mind when we talk about skilling is Prime Minister Modi’s own personal passion on this subject. I remember many-many years ago when he was the Chief Minister of Gujarat, he had conducted a survey to assess how many different professions touch a person’s life from birth, or maybe one can go back before birth till death, and in some sense even post death. And you will all be amazed, the number of different professions that came on the table were about 5000. There are 5000 different people or skills that a person engages with from birth to death in a normal life.

And why I said post death is my late grandmother would never have probably seen a lawyer until after death the process of probate, and which was such a complicated process, and all the other people associated with that whole process, very true. So, like that each thing added up to about 5000 possible skills. From the day he became Prime Minister, or if one goes back to his Chief Ministerial days, he has had this mantra of speed, skill and scale. And I think in each one of these, this government has focused for the last three years, very-very deep focus.

We are looking at aggressively speeding up the various programmes of the government – any programme, you take up any programme, whether it’s petroleum auctioning for new exploration blocks, whether it’s the programme to lay optic fibre cable in the country where in 3 years we ramped up from 358 kms to over 200,000 kms of optic fibre cable. Solar power, we are now 6x of what we were 3 years ago. And the list goes on, on almost any subject.

The number of medical student seats that have been added in the last 3 years is almost 50% of what we had in 2014 and the list goes on and on. Scale has been a credo of this government. Speeding up development, speeding up action on a variety of very pressing problems the country had has also been uppermost in his mind. So, I can tell you that every cabinet meeting, he may recall some earlier discussion or conversation and say that it’s going slow; you need to speed it up.

But of all the three speed, skill and scale, I think the dearest to him has always been skilling – something he is personally passionate about, to the extent that that’s the only new Ministry that has been created, from a department it’s been upgraded to a Ministry in this government. And the focus is so deep that if ever he comes to know that any of the skill programmes of the country are still working in silos, he will make it a point to remind all of us that the success of the skill development programme lies in collecting all the small disparate efforts, make it a more cohesive programme. And a programme, which can then have a deep impact on the people, on the economy, on the future of India, the future of our youth.

You spoke about new collar; I think more and more India today is seeing job creators, rather than job seekers, so that would become ‘no collar’ probably. But truly, the way India is emerging, the youth of today is not looking at a structured 9 to 5 engagement, not necessarily at least. The youth of today is very passionate about the work he does and our job as policymakers, as industry leaders is more to channelize that passion, is more to get out that skill, that knowledge, that understanding that is there in each one of us, but probably never gets a chance to really flourish, to get in a very formal manner, in an organised manner really get that to come to action.

Dharmendraji made a very valid point that the compulsion of apprentice has been removed, and this government genuinely believes that anything which is compulsory is always to the detriment of the success of a programme. The moment you make it voluntary, the acceptability and the possibility of success significantly improves. And I think now we are encouraging more and more corporates and people in different fields to look at going up to 10% of your workforce, to engage them as apprentices and skill them.

I myself have issued instructions; we are working out a way how we can take them all from across the country and taken about a 100,000 apprentices in the Indian railways alone.

And, actually, come to think of it. These are nice, bright youngsters. They want to do something in life, so they are keen to learn, more often than not. If at all anybody has concerns that you have to absorb them in the service compulsorily, that’s been well settled, even in the law courts that these apprentices work with you, you pay them a reasonable stipend. It’s not even as if you are paying them some phenomenal amounts of money. And I promise you they work harder than your regular employees, because there is that fire in the belly to achieve something, to learn something.

My own sense is that the way different government departments, Ministries and industry or skill development programmes were working on developing skills in the country, all of us working to the best of our ability, but not cohesively bringing together what would round up a person’s ability to be a good citizen, to be a good workman, to be a good expert in whichever chosen profession. That was what was lacking for so many years.

Let’s take a simple example of housekeeping. Frankly, even sweeping the floor has skill sets associated with it. And I am facing it in the railways. So, traditionally, you would sweep the platforms in the railways or even the coaches in the train and open the door and just shove it out from the door onto the tracks, or from the platform onto the tracks.

Now, simple intervention of skilling that person to make him understand what the detrimental impact of that is on the track, on the rail services, a potential safety hazard, which my young friend Andreas was just talking to me about some new technologies on predictive maintenance have come up with. Now, all of these small interventions can actually have transformational results in the future of India.

A bathroom, a well maintained, neat and clean bathroom has very good impact on the health of all of us, and then when that skilled person understands his job better, he will do the same back home to keep his place clean. And then this will get into the culture, into the DNA of the country. After all, a clean India is not something alien to all of us. I dare say none of us would even throw a small tissue paper, or forget that, a chewing gum wrapper on the streets of Davos. But wouldn’t flinch an eyelid doing the same in our own dear country, unfortunately.

And that’s that mindset change that you were talking about that the entire country is working towards. Prime Minister Modi again and again repeats this subject about clean India, some people even, maybe stand-up comedians and all like to talk about it in a disparaging fashion. But the reality is that these are so crucial to the development of India, if you really want to see tourism grow in this country, if you really want to see people having good health standards in the country. I think cleanliness, sanitation, these are issues which really are of pressing urgency.

And, very often, when you drive home a point, again and again and again, it starts having an impact. And to my mind, I can give you an example of Banaras (Varanasi), where if any of you have been, it was probably one of the dirtiest towns of the country, absolutely impossible to even go anywhere except for the religious interest to be there, which drew us all to go to Banaras.

When we did the root cause analysis of the problem, what we realised is, same two issues. One – shove the garbage into the ganges, so you have a large part of the ganges getting polluted because of garbage from cities going into the river. And why was that so? Because there was no place for garbage disposal. The one landfill that was there was full up to the brim, local villagers wouldn’t allow anymore garbage, because then that would become a heap and create health hazards for them. The other place was a waste processing plant set up some 7-8 years ago, incomplete, lying in disuse; 200 vehicles for evacuating garbage there, completely run down, no tyres, no battery, no wire, nothing in that, just a shell, rusted shell.

And as is typical of this government, which is why skill development also has been the focus, or as you said the mindset of this government of doing a root cause analysis to find out where the problem lies, helped us assess that if that plant were to start and garbage could be evacuated instead of in the water into the plant, processed initially as organic manure, maybe at some stage later as energy, we would actually be able to keep the streets of Banaras clean.

Simultaneously, of course, we got in skilled or trained manpower to come in. We also started introducing door-to-door garbage collection and the holistic programme helped us… and restarted this plant, because of which the Banaras ranking on Swacchta ranking, cleanliness, improved from something like 400-plus to 30. That was the transition, the transformational change that can happen once we change the mindset.

And in that sense, I think taking up skill development as one of the most important pillars of this government’s development agenda, to my mind will provide not only India, but the whole world with people who are able to contribute both to the Indian economy, to activities around the world. We have also been looking at having more focused skill development programme, something like Singapore does. In Singapore, they actually assess to the last number how many people would be required in each of the various professions. So even a retail sales person in a mall is assessed how many will be required 3 years hence, how many people would be required as nurses 2 years hence. And for each one of them, the programme of skill development is conducted, so you have the right skilled people for every job.

In India, if we start looking at it in that fashion, there is huge potential. Only three days back, a skill development centre was opened again in Banaras for helping re-skill people in the traditional arts of diamond and jewellery and linked pieces for international markets. So, nurses, internationally there is a huge demand for nurses. Can India be their provider of nurses?

So each profession if the, and CII can help us do that. We can analyse, we can really transform the nation’s youth’s ability to contribute to nation building through the skill development programme. And I would urge each one of you to participate in that wholeheartedly.

Well, as regards the railways’ programme on upgrading the interiors of doing up better bathrooms, what we have decided is rather than the typical thinking in the railways, or most government work of a 10-year programme to replace the interiors in 58,000 coaches of the passenger trains and all, if we were to compress that entire programme into a short defined timeframe, maybe 15 months, maybe 18 months, then economies of scale will kick in.

So, let’s say you are redoing the curtains of the train or you are redoing the seat covers, right? If you are going to do small quantities in different parts of the country gradually, your cost keeps escalating, then you don’t get those skilled people to come in and work because they don’t make that much money. But if you aggressively go behind that programme, and say 58,000 coaches the interiors are going to be all changed. They are all going to be repainted to give a smarter look to the Indian railways, then you can actually bring down cost significantly and make travelling by train once again a pleasure, bring that charm back into the railways.

And that’s what we are trying to do, scaling up each of our products for speed. Of course, skilled people are going to be very essential while we do that, so you can (inaudible) the painting job if you don’t get good people.

You will be amazed when I became Railway Minister and I tried to assess why are we not getting good painted coaches. Not one of the top 5 companies in India who are paint suppliers were registered in the railways, not one of them. Because the volumes are small, the purchase is spread all over the whole country. Of course, many other things, we need not get down that road.

Now, when we started talking about quality standards, I think all 5 of them will come and I hope they fight like cats and dogs to give me the right pricing. But that’s the change that we are trying to bring in and quality, if that becomes the driver then skilling is an absolute necessity to get quality into the system.

I think the way the world is evolving towards 3D manufacturing or artificial intelligence; I think you all recognize the traditional way of giving jobs to people is now going to be history. I mean government, for example, at one point of time was the best job to get or a very attractive job to get. Today, a young person who is skilled doesn’t want to work in government, because that constraints his ability to have significant increase in incomes, particularly, with Mr Modi there trying to curb corruption.

And in that situation, when we look at the new technology regime that’s coming into the world, jobs are going to be created in a completely different fashion. I will draw from my days as a Power Minister, a typical 4000 MW ultra supercritical power plant could possibly create X number of jobs, it’s a large plant, generating huge amounts of electricity. It will mine coal, take it there, convert to electricity and transmit electricity.

As against that, in the new age that we are working in where distributed forms of energy, particularly, renewable energy is centre force of international discourse, for the same amount of electricity that was earlier generated in a 4000 MW power plant when generated through these distributed forms across the country will create 10x the number of working opportunities may not reflect in any job number that you and I may compile. But it’s distributed across the ecosystem, people getting job or working opportunity at their place, spread across the country. You don’t have to rush to Mumbai or Delhi to get a job, you don’t have to be standing in long queues outside factories to try and become just a casual labour for the day.

You are actually seeing people (inaudible)  new entrepreneurial roles for themselves and no better testimony to that than the fact that nearly 90 million people have taken a Mudra loan, the small loan, all of which aggregating to about $50 billion. And small loans, it could be as small as $5000; it could be as small as a $1000. And these small persons taking these loans are now (inaudible) small enterprises which then coupled with skills can help them expand their activities.



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