September 28, 2017

Speaking at India Mobile Congress 2017

Thank you very much, Mr Mathews, Ms Aruna Sundararajan, Mr Kiran Kumar, other distinguished dignitaries on the dais, ladies and gentlemen. It’s Ashtami today and I have just finished my prayers, where, in a way, we say it’s the, Arunaji will probably help me with this actual thing but, I think it’s Ma Durga killing away all evil or getting rid of all evil and new beginnings for your family, for your society, for the country. So, in a way an auspicious day and a good start to be amongst friends from the telecom industry, which to my mind is doing exactly the same job that I am doing as the Railway Minister. You are connecting people in one form, I am trying to connect people in another form and it is the age of connectivity that is going to take India to the next level.

I am glad that the Indian Mobile Congress brings together all the stakeholders of this sector, since you are talking of puns I am not referring to the photographs that have been flashed all over the newspapers today morning. But, it does help connect people, get people together on one platform and I do hope that this kind of engagement will help us take mobility to the next level, next level of technology, next level of engagement, next level of bringing service to the people of India and there could be no denying the fact that both our sectors, telecom and railways, have a lot of work ahead of us. We have to look at new standards of service to our customers. We have to probably expand the levels of technology in both Telecom and the Railways. But, I have no doubt in my mind that this challenge is something, which will only enthuse all us to do better in the days and years to come.

Ultimately, connectivity is going to be the key to growth, to development, as we are able to bring mobility amongst people across the country, easier safer, much more comfortable mobility. I am sure, similarly the experience of using the – I meant mobility in the railway side – similarly, the experience of using your mobile phone of getting people connected with people through internet, should become a delightful experience and I think that’s where if all of us work together, including RailTel, which is a small player in the mobility space also I think we can do a lot of work to help the people of India get that level of customer satisfaction that all of us are yearning for.

I am sure many of you may have travelled in trains and been looking for a much better experience. Similarly, all of us are looking for a much better experience when it comes to using telephones across the country. It cannot be just that we get Mumbai and Delhi connected into the new age technologies, it will have to go more and more into all of India. And I have set certain standards or certain expectations of RailTel, about which I am going to speak at more detail in another interaction at 11 o’clock.

But, I do believe that RailTel, while working to expand its business frontiers will also have a significant social dimension, going forward. And the fact that we have more than 45,000 kms of optic fiber laid down by RailTel, connecting nearly 4,500 towns and all almost about 5000 railway stations across the length and the breadth of the country, which can be serviced by the optic fibre that they have laid down. I think they can play an important role in the rural connectivity push. They have had some challenges in the North East, which I hope they can quickly sort out in consultation with the department of telecom.

But I do believe that as I break the silos between different Ministries and work together for stakeholder satisfaction and in consultation with all the stakeholders, we can truly revolutionize both the railways and the telecom sector. And, certainly the kind of growth we have seen in mobile from what, a mere few million phones to probably 8-900 million phones now, and increasingly, the penetration of smart phones, which as the Prime Minister says, literally brings all of e-commerce, all of banking in your pocket and, literally, our lives are now revolving around mobile phones. I don’t know how safe they are though with the kind of data that is being available to people all over the world.

I don’t know whether the Chinese experiment where they were able to keep a little bit of a check on data flowing out of the country has any resonance or gives you any guidance to consider at all about whether we should have the servers and all stations more in India, more and more in India rather than allowing our data to go around the world, that’s something all of you need to discuss and come up with more cogent solutions about the future.

But, as the Prime Minister says, the most fundamental debate now amongst the youth is to choose between Android and IOS and Windows, and that is becoming the debate rather than many other issues around town. But, clearly, as we move more and more towards m-governance or mobile governance, it’s going to become more easy, it’s going to become far more effective  and given the current pricing of telecom, I think very much more economical.

So, we are seeing so much growth in the usage of internet over the mobile that possibly we will see 500-600 million people getting connected to the internet, thanks to the mobile expansion across the country. So, it’s really a great opportunity for all of us to expand our frontiers to bring in new technologies, new knowledge. It’s a great opportunity for start-ups and entrepreneurs to integrate technology and public service. We have seen a lot of that happen in the taxi cabs area, for example.

Yesterday, I was reviewing one of my zones in the railways and they mentioned that just for giving out a right to use a few parking spaces outside the railway station by the shared cab model – the Ubers and Olas of the world, just one zone out of 17 zones in the Indian Railways was able to monetize some 42 crore rupees in 3 years. Now, it’s a small step, but as they say, each one of these drops in the ocean can actually impact our ability to serve the people better, and as we bring in more efficiency, we bring in more thoughtful ways to raise revenue, it will also enable us to ensure economical travel in the rail and not stress our consumers with price increases or keep our costs in control, so that we can be a very efficient organization, despite the challenges that the organization faces, many of them legacy challenges like, safety and technology absorption.

In fact, I was told the railways was one of the earliest users of computers in the country, way back in the 60s they started using computers in a small way, and by 1985, you had the passenger reservation all computerized, which is probably the earliest. I remember banking starting to use computers in the 90s and core banking came in only in the 2000 to 2005-06 period. But, it was quite an interesting fact for me that late 60s, railways started using computers and I am delighted about that, but, I do wish we had expanded those frontiers much more to bring in technology for safety, for example. And I had a very-very delightful meeting with Mr Kiran Kumar only, just about 4 days back, where ISRO, RailTel and the Indian Railways are looking to work together with each other to see how we can make use of space technology, something very dear, something about which Prime Minister Modi is very passionate – how we can integrate space technology and the needs of the people of India and in that safety in the Indian railways is a very impressing and urgent need.

The discussions that we had three-four days ago were truly eye opening in some sense for me, but also very exciting in terms of the possibilities that open up for engaging with space and the technologies that ISRO has developed, I am helping bring safer travel to Indian Railways.

Similarly, I think yesterday there was talk about artificial intelligence coming in, 5G roll-out starting in a faster way in the country. All this artificial intelligence or machine learning is going to change the way India works, the way the world works. I mean, I recall all the three lectures we have had by eminent people in the Niti Transformation Series, whether it was Mr Bill Gates, whether it was the Deputy Prime Minister of Singapore, Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam or whether it was the world renowned Guru on competitiveness Michael Porter – all three stressed on the changing nature of technology, the advent of new age ways of doing business, the new age entrepreneurial spirit, which is taking over large factories and large structured employment opportunities and moving it into far more entrepreneurial and start-up kind of engagement across the world.

A case in point being how the large power plants are moving to distributed energy sources of solar, wind, hydro, all of them coming up across the world with small installations, green installations, creating far more working opportunities, both direct and indirect, and yet serving society in a more sustainable manner. So, the whole world is seeing this churn, in the way the world operates, in the way technology  works, in the way the youth of the future are looking to be connected, are looking to develop their own carriers, develop their own work ethics, work style and we are seeing a lot of that coming into India also.

The renewable energy thrust that we are giving, the thrust to start-ups or new age technologies is going to bring in, I think, prosperity to the people of India, much faster than we saw in the last few decades. And more importantly, it can have an impact that we live leapfrog and cut away some of the layers of learning that many of the developed world and nations have had to go through. India has the opportunity to really look at what’s the latest across the world and bring that to India. And, with the advent of 5G, I think we would be amongst the few nations in the world, which have quickly transitioned from 2 to 3 to 4 to 5G, in such a short span of time.

We see that across in different sectors. You look at electric vehicles, we see the same kind of rapid churn and we have the advantage that a large part of India has still not gone in for mobility in terms of transport, and we would have a large number of people, who would be first-time vehicle owners. So, rather than doing what the west has done, where everybody first buys a petrol or diesel vehicle and then shifts to a more energy efficient, sustainable and clean electric vehicle, India is looking to leapfrog in that technology and encourage electrical vehicles to come in both two-wheelers, three-wheelers, boats, fishing trawlers, passengers vehicles, which are running on water, hovercrafts and stuff like that.

The entire thinking is changing in the world, and India is going to play a leadership role, be at a pole position to be able to leverage on new technologies. Mobile, certainly, is one area where India has demonstrated leadership and I do hope going forward we will continue to see that same leadership. I would like to commit the support of our own organization, Railways, in whatever way we can do it. For example, we are working with Google to bring 400 Railway stations Wi-Fi connected. I have asked RailTel to look at a program to connect thousands of railway stations, so that we can actually provide also the villages around the railway stations with Wi-Fi connectivity and get rural India also connected with new age technologies. Let’s give them an opportunity to get the same kind of information flow that our children in the cities are enjoying.

So, we are looking at how we can dovetail as I said, business and social outcomes, and make availability of digital technology, availability of internet, across the country, to all the citizens of India at affordable prices, the fulcrum of our plans going forward. I am sure, with the kind of growth we have seen in even manufacturing companies coming into India in the mobile space, in the electronic space, and there is still room for much more, there is still room for a lot of international companies to look at making India the manufacturing hub and become the base to provide to the rest of the world at affordable prices.

I think the 95 odd companies that Mr Ravi Shankar Prasad was telling me, have set up base in a short span of 3 years, is only the beginning, and I am sure going forward, engagement such as the India Mobile Congress, will help India emerge as the next hub of mobile technologies, of mobile technology manufacturing, of engagement where a billion plus people in the county will get affordable access to very reliable and integrated technologies helping them transform their lives, helping them in different spheres of their work, be it agriculture, be it small-scale industry, be it education, be it telemedicine, all of these opening up great vistas for the mobile technology to help connect India, help make India one nation, one people with technology access, 24/7, just as we are trying to bring that in electricity. I think a country with 24/7 electricity and 24/7 mobile and internet access would be a dream for every citizen of India particularly the youth.

My best wishes to your programme. Thank you.

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