November 4, 2017

Speaking at International Conference on Environment, in New Delhi

..involved with the entire engagement at Paris during COP21, when this very agreement, to save the world, in some sense, was finalized. And I saw Mr Javadekar relentlessly pursuing India’s interests, and the interests of the world to protect the environment in Paris. It’s truly a delight that Prakashji now is looking after human resource development, which in some sense, is a kind of root cause of the problem that the world is facing that we are not able to sensitize our youth well enough about the environment.

So, I am sure, first as Environment Minister and now as HRD Minister, we are blessed to have Mr Javadekar look after both these very important areas. The most distinguished honourable Shri Justice Madan Lokur gave us a lot of food for thought when he spoke today. And, of course, Justice Lokur we have been reading about many of your very-very important and far reaching judgements, which I believe will help this country, save the environment, protect the future of our children, and I must compliment you for your very good work in the (Inaudible).

Honourable Shri Justice Reddy, Chief Justice of Gujarat, who’s been gracious enough to join us in this very important International Conference on Environment that my elder brother, if I may even venture to even add, my good friend, and in large measure,  a mentor in a lot of the work that I have been doing.

Honourable Shri Justice Swatantra Kumarji has been holding regularly for the last, at least I have had the privilege of being able to attend each one of his conferences, right from 2014. So, this is my 4th engagement with Justice Swatantra Kumar, and I compliment and congratulate you sir for sustainably maintaining interest in this very important subject and keeping the fire of environmental concerns live amongst the people of India, amongst policymakers in India, and in some sense, demonstrating to the world India’s commitment to the environment, India’s commitment to leave behind a better planet than the one we inherited.

Today is a very auspicious day, 4th November. It’s a sacred festival that we are celebrating, the Gurpurab. In fact, if I may quote from the Guru Granth Sahib ji – ‘The purpose of human beings is to achieve a blissful state and to be in harmony with the earth, and all of God’s creation.’ Such prophetic words said centuries ago!

And the Guru Granth Sahib also suggests and enlightens us when it says air is the Guru, the teacher; water is the father, and earth is the great mother of all. And, therefore, it delights me when I see distinguished judges from all across the world, when I see ambassadors, dignitaries, diplomats, our own very distinguished judges of different courts across India. And also, when I see the youth of India engaging in a Conference like this in such large measure, taking interest, being concerned about this subject that I feel we are in safe hands.

And this is something which transcends all of humanity, all of mankind. In fact, if one was to even go into the religious texts, of any religion, you will find a common thread emanating from all religions. Buddhism says ‘one is forbidden to cut trees, destroy animals, birds or pollute water.’ Jain scriptures preach not to injure, abuse, kill any creature or living being. Hinduism talks about God’s omnipresence, and in some sense, if you cause injury to the environment, you are causing injury to God. The Quran’s messages of unity, harmony, a balance, which ultimately represents sustainable development, what Justice Lokur just talked about. Christianity prescribes a harmonious relationship between man and nature.

And this would just go on across centuries, particularly, in India, where we have learned to respect, where we have actually held nature to be akin to God. If one looks up any of the old scriptures, the famous quote – Vrikshya Rakshati Rakshatata – ‘one who saves trees is saved by the trees.’

After all, all of us recognize and understand the importance of forests, the importance of trees, how the carbon sink is created with more and more greenery, more and more trees around us. And that has been the hallmark of India’s Intended Nationally Determined Contributions, which we finalized at Paris under Prakashji’s leadership, where we talked of creating a huge carbon sink to ensure that going forward we can have better air to breathe in, where we announced to the world the largest roll-out of renewable energy. We had about 2,500 MW of solar power in India in 2014. We plan to scale it up 40 times to 100,000 MW by 2022. This massive thrust on hydro power, wind power, solar power, converting waste to energy, something which is very dear to Prime Minister Modi, personally.

I remember, in an engagement when President Obama was here, a journalist asked him, and I don’t know whether it was a prophetic question that was asked of him in 2015, when President Obama came to India for the Republic Day parade, in the press interaction. And who at that point of time could have ever imagined that a responsible nation like the United States would walk out of Paris Agreement, would announce that we are not concerned about climate change. But in January 2015, a journalist asked Prime Minister Modi, ‘what if the western world, what if the United States,’ while President Obama was standing next to Mr Modi, ‘what if they were not to fulfil their commitments under this global effort to protect the environment. Would you still pursue the 175 GW of renewable energy that you are announcing?’

And Prime Minister Modi’s words have almost been like a beacon for me in my earlier role as Renewable Energy Minister, where Prime Minister said, ‘for me, protecting the climate, protecting the earth, ensuring clean air is an article of faith. It’s not something that we are doing; we as a nation are doing, because somebody else is asking us to do it.’

Justice Lokur did refer to laws, I think the time has come where the nation as a whole takes it upon itself not by law, not by force, not under the pressure of any possible penalties or fines or punishment, but truly as an article of faith, truly as our responsibility, as our concern, our commitment, our duty to society, our duty to the next generation that we are concerned about the environment.

While as Justice Swatantra Kumar said and further reiterated by honourable Justice Lokur, very clearly, we need development. All of us are committed to development. But that development will have to be sustainable. That development will have to be along with protecting the environment. And in some sense, I can almost link up every single decision that each one of us is taking in small measure in different areas, linking up to the environment. And I was seeing the four technical sessions that Justice Swatantra Kumar just mentioned, in some sense, I personally have had the good fortune to be engaged with each one of those – forestry and biodiversity. As Coal Minister, I have been focusing that wherever the mined out land is there, wherever mining gets over, we have been trying to convert them into eco-parts, we have been trying to have forestry in a big way.

And I remember, in one of the meetings with Prakash Javadekarji when my coal officials were saying we have converted so many lakh acres of land, mined out land into forest. Prakashji said, how do I believe you? We have been statistics all these years.

And I remember, honourable Chief Justice Mr Thakur, had also raised this issue of ‘we hear about so many acres of forestry being done, where do we see that?’ And I got the coal officials to actually use ISRO satellite technology. We mapped out all the areas where we had converted to forests and we put it into public domain, to actually show to the world exactly what we have done on forestry.

Renewable Energy, of course, was under my charge for nearly three and a half years, I believe all of you would have been experiencing the change in the mood of the nation when it comes to renewable energy; prices have been able to become very affordable, because of transparent auctions that we conducted to promote renewable energy. What used to be purchased at Rs 7 and Rs 8 before we came into government, we are now enjoying solar power at Rs 2.5/3/3.25 depending on each state, making it, in fact, lower prices than coal-based thermal power.

Wind energy, which used to be almost Rs 4-5, government used to give a further subsidy on top of that, we have only had two rounds of auctions and you will be happy to know, honourable judges, that we have been able to because of the integrity of the process and fair competition, we have been able to bring down, only in two auctions of a 1000 MW each of wind power, prices have come down to below Rs 3, by the second auction, from what we were paying 5-6, some states Rs 7.

And that truly goes on, whether it was our LED programme to focus on energy efficiency, after all, why are we promoting energy efficiency? Just one single LED promotion that this government took up on mission mode in 2015 will result in a saving of 80 million tonnes of carbon dioxide every year, because of the 112 billion units of energy that we will be saving by converting all our lighting to LEDs. And we did that honestly, we were able to bring down the cost of LED bulbs by almost 87% in one and a half year, 87% reduction, and scaled up the use of LEDs from about 600,000 LED bulbs being sold by a government company every year, to 600,000 LED bulbs being sold every day – a 300 times increase!

Thanks to which today, our Indian consumers while they are helping save the planet, helping save nature, helping improve the environment are also saving Rs 40,000 crore every year in their energy bills. Somebody can ask us whether GST has a connection with environment, it does, because we removed all the check posts across the country where trucks used to stand for hours with their engine running, spewing out diesel and carbon.

Mr Nitin Gadkari is focusing on RFID tax, so that we can do away with all the toll bridges also, toll nakas, and have smooth flow of traffic. I am told the logistic companies say they have already found nearly 35% more efficiency in their movement of goods, transport logistics, thanks to GST.

Of course, we have just started on the programme of electric vehicles. But our aim is that by 2030, all the new vehicles that we produce in India should be an electric vehicle, which can be used through or which can work on batteries charged by solar energy, renewable energy, ultimately, saving billions of dollar of foreign exchange while protecting the environment. I am looking at 100% electrification of the entire railway freight now. I don’t know how many of us are aware that 50% of the trains that come into Delhi, and Swatantra Kumarji, koi order mat pass kardena, I will have to stop all the trains (inaudible).

But 50% of the trains are diesel-driven when they enter Delhi, because at some stretch on their journey, electrification hasn’t been done 7 decades after independence. One of the first directions I received from Prime Minister Modi was that get the whole railway system electrified post haste. We will save on foreign exchange on diesel imports; railways will save Rs 10,000 crores every year in actual expenditure on fuel. And it will save all of you from diesel fumes which are being spewn all across the country wherever the railways work. Small steps maybe, big impact.

But at the same time, one will also have to balance development. I remember, in my first engagement in 2014, Justice Swatantra Kumar may recall, I have spoken about Mahabaleshwar, the hill station in Maharashtra, honourable Justice Lokur would be very familiar with that. I don’t know if any of you have had the pleasure, it’s an outstanding place to go to. You can really rejuvenate and come back ready to do more with just nearly 24 hours spent in Mahabaleshwar.

And I had raised the issue at that point of time that if we stop the development of roads or infrastructure in Mahabaleshwar, we are actually harming the environment, because of that the roads remain narrow. Tourists want to come to Mahabaleshwar, there are huge traffic jams and traffic blocks, we are spewing out more and more diesel and petrol. And today, Mahabaleshwar doesn’t have that quintessential charm that it had 30 years ago when I went there as a child.

But if we were to unlock that potential, expand the infrastructure, after all, many of us have gone all over the world, all places of tourist interest they have been developed in a sustainable manner. Balancing development and sustainability, ensuring economic prosperity for the people of their nations, while at the same time protecting the environment also.

And I think it’s the sensitivity of this government and the commitment of all of us collectively to collaborate and work with environmentalists, with experts who understand issues related to environment, to work towards sustainable lifestyles, not only in India but across the world, to work to balance development and the economic agendas and goals of the country, the requirements to feed a billion people, to requirements to provide good working opportunities to the youth of this country. But all of this in a sustainable manner, all of this encouraging growth, encouraging tourism in the country, encouraging faster and more efficient modes of transport.

After all, the bullet train in some sense, also brings in efficiency. Per passenger kilometre travel, it is the most efficient way to travel on land. Clearly, airlines is probably the most efficient in terms of its ability to move people from one place to the other with the least carbon, even though, now there is attention being drawn to the carbon that airplanes also spew into the atmosphere. So, all in all, we have a great opportunity ladies and gentlemen, to work together, to work as a team, to collaborate with each other and my own experience is that when we work together, we can move mountains. There’s nothing which is insurmountable.

And in my own work over the last three-three and a half years, I have always looked up to Justice Swatantra Kumarji for his guidance, for his support, he’s full of ideas, lot of concern, lot of passion for the environment, for nature. And I would like to place on record my appreciation, my deep appreciation Justice Swatantra Kumar for your leadership in this. I will anxiously look forward to receiving the proceedings of these 4 technical sessions and the entire conference, so that we can further learn from wise men and women from ideas from across the world that would have been placed on the table.

And I would only like to reassure all the distinguished legal luminaries and the distinguished ladies and gentlemen with us this afternoon that this government, led by Prime Minister Modi and all his colleagues, stands deeply committed and we believe that we are only trustees of the earth, of the planet that we have inherited, and it is our duty to leave behind a better place to live in for the youth of tomorrow, for my young brothers and sisters who truly deserve a better quality of life.

Thank you very much.

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