February 17, 2017

Speaking at “International Conference on NexGen Technologies for Mining & Fuel Industries, New Delhi

17th Feb 17

 Quality of coal being supplied to power plants, other coal consumers, over the years coal consumers, being in this monopolistic without any competition situation after nationalization of coal mines, were forced to accept whatever quality of coal came, whatever was declared, whether boulders were there in that, whether there was grade slippage, at times as big as four or five grade slippage. And over the last many decades we had reached a situation where this country had given up on whether one could ever have efficient and effective supplies and mining of coal.
I am delighted that with the concerted efforts of all the stakeholders who are related to the steel sector, we have reached a situation where today this country can proudly proclaim that we are a coal and power surplus country. And in this situation, that monopolistic approach towards supplying to your customers cannot work anymore. Finally the customer is king, has come to roost in the coal industry. And towards that end, I had requested CIMFR through CSIR to help us through the sampling and inspection of coal supplies that go to the various sectors in the coal industry. I am really very delighted that CIMFR has done some wonderful work while monitoring this quality of coal. Of course, I would like you to be even more stricter than what you are, particularly, since you are monitoring my work and my success depends on your ability to monitor my work efficiently. So please ensure that every officer of CIMFR who is involved in this activity of checking the coal samples and verifying the grades and quality of coal does his job very diligently with the highest levels of probity and integrity, ensures that he is not influenced by any officials or anybody at all. And if at all somebody tries to influence any official of CIMFR I would urge you to please report it immediately to the ministry because that’s the only way we can serve the country.
And more importantly, I would urge each one of you to remember that the job you are doing is not just an ordinary job, you are serving the nation to ensure that the power plants work efficiently, that other users of coal get good quality of coal, you are making sure that cost of power can remain affordable so that the poorest of the poor can also enjoy the benefit of affordable and low-cost power. So your job is not just sampling that coal and giving a test report, your job is finally serving the poorest of the poor get affordable electricity supply. And if you keep that in front of you as your objective then I am sure you will do a far better job in inspecting those coal supplies and making sure that the country gets good quality of coal.
Of course, this was not what I had planned to come and speak about but since I got this opportunity to meet with several colleagues from CIMFR I thought I will raise this issue and I will certainly expect very high standards of quality from the work that you are doing. I must compliment CSIR for completing 75 years, 75 glorious years in the service of the nation, 75 years where you have also provided a lot of R&D for the coal and mining sector across the value chain – exploration, actual mining, utilization of these coal mines. So we have had a very deep relationship and engagement with CSIR over the years between the mining sector and the technology work that you are doing.
But very clearly, as the famous Japanese poet Satoro had said, ‘individually each one of us can at best be one drop but together we can form the ocean’. And it’s only when we all work together as a team that we can really change the destiny of India, the future of India and I hope this partnership continues for many many years in the future. I hope all of us move forward together, your activities continue to flourish, we continue to enjoy the benefits of your innovation, your research, and your developmental activities. And as India moves up the development chain, as we get recognized the world over as a developed nation, as a superpower in its own right; we are already I think 4th or 5th largest economy, we will soon become the 3rd largest economy in the world. We want the per capita incomes of our people to improve, the quality of life of our peoples to improve and that cannot happen unless all of us work together to bring the best of technologies, the best of innovation, the best of ideas to start serving India. Because the future is for those who can think differently, who can think big and bold and beautiful. The future will be for those who are willing to not necessarily go down the beaten path but venture into newer areas. And a country which today has the ability to send 104 missiles into space on one rocket, and ladies and gentlemen, only…. were Indian, 101 out of 104 were for other countries, all advanced countries, including the Western developed world are now using Indian space missions to send their satellites above.
That is the true strength of India. And to my mind, CSIR and all its associate bodies are actually doing a wonderful work in retaining talent in India. I am sure all of you have heard that Indians do very well when they go to NASA and the best potential of Indian talent comes out in NASA in America. We need to change that perception. We need to change that story. We need to have the best technologies coming out of CSIR, the best technologies coming out of research in India so that India becomes the crucible of research going forward, India becomes that nation which provides to the world better ideas, newer ideas. And instead of following what the world is doing I think it’s time now that India starts defining what the world will do. We will lead the world into the next generation and that’s what I think this conference is all about.
You know, when we look at next generation mining, the three elements that can define probably next generation mining would be safer mining, and I have just had a very severe accident recently so safety is paramount in my efforts to improve the mining sector. Smarter mining, so that we do it in a cost-effective manner with better technologies being employed, less pollution, less environmental damage and overall the mining activities is better than what it was for so many decades before us. As Charles Darwin had said, ‘it is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent by the way, it is the one that is willing to attack to change that survives.’ And that’s why the human race has over the years adapted itself to changing circumstances and have reached where we are today.
Going forward, we have to continue to evolve, evolve in our work, evolve in our technological innovations, evolve in the way we work and, to my mind, science, research, development; this is going to be the way forward. Bio-medicine, bio-sciences, these are going to be the buzzwords of tomorrow…………………. It’s not as if American people are more hardworking than any Indian person, it’s not as if they have something, some God gift that is not available with us, it’s not as if their infrastructure is so much better or so much wiser the set of people working there that only they have the premium to come up with new patents, new ideas.
But I am given to understand, sadly, that probably no patent of significance has been registered in India in several decades. Why is this situation prevailing? Can we not together change this? Can we not all start working towards a newer way to look at all of these things? The honorable Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi himself is very passionate about science and technology. You sir were a part of that deliberation where there were discussions on how we can engage with space technology, for instance, with newer and newer methods of research in the country, to take India to the center fold and in the centre of innovation in the world. What we really need to do is transform the way we do research and development, encourage newer scientists, encourage the next generation to think differently.
In fact, I remember when I had just become a Minister in one of my first interactions, and possibly at the same venue, I don’t recall now. I was asked a question from the audience, what is your budget, what is your ministry’s budget on research and development? And I remember answering I have no budget for research and development. And everybody was shell-shocked; they thought some idiot has become a minister who doesn’t even believe in having research and development in his organizations. And then I explained to them, research is something which cannot have a budget. It has to be budget-less. It has to be limitless. It has to be allowed to evolve and during the course of that evolution how can you constraint research and development; you have to let it flourish. You don’t budget research and development. You expand research and development. After all, budget is limiting factor.
And I remember, sometime end of 2014, Dr Kakodkar was attending an interaction we had in India Habitat Centre on, I think it was on single-phase DC lines being taken to the villages of India to ensure that India never has a blackout, it only has a brownout. So in the worst stage when there is a power shortage we will have a DC line going to each home so that we can cut down and restrict the consumption of power but still feed power to everybody. Of course, those were the early days when India traditionally being a power-deficient and full of shortages, planned for shortages. And I remember giving an approval to an investment of I think Rs 60 or 80 crore in that project. Now possibly, today in this scenario of surplus that project may now not be relevant anymore or we may see its relevance in some other way. And I don’t know, possibly CAG may come with a report against me for that research. But at that point of time that was the need of the hour. In a country of shortages, to ensure that everybody gets power round the clock was the need of the hour. Now that we have the confidence we have surplus power, possibly, that technology may have some other alternate use. I am trying to see if that can be dovetailed with solar rooftop to provide a direct DC-based energy into homes through the distributed model and still use the investment we did on this technology.
But after that meeting and interaction with IIT Directors and all got over, we were having lunch and Dr Kakodkar talked to me that Mr Goyal for the last three years there’s been a research project that IIT Jodhpur had suggested. I think it was on solar thermal and research to make it more economically viable and practical. And it needs some 200 crores but there has not been any sanction, for several years we have been talking about it. I asked my colleague and I don’t know if the same fellow is with me here today. I said dial NTPC Chairman, Aroop Roy Choudhary was the Chairman. I said are you in the office, he said yes, I asked Dr Kakodkar, what time are you going back to Pune? He comes from Pune. And I still remember it was the day of Ganpati Visarjan, for those of you or any of you who knows what immersion of the idols is, that was the last day of Ganpati immersion. I think it was Anant Chaturdashi and he had to get back home to Pune for immersing his Ganpati idol in the water. And he was good enough to come to Delhi all the way in the morning, despite having God installed in his home and with the religious compulsions of his family to come for my meeting. That’s the kind of sincerity that is there is our Indian scientists, in our Indian technical senior people. Dr Kakodkar came, so he said I have 5.30 flight and I have to get back and Visarjan ke liye jaana hai mujhe.
It was about 3 o’clock. I said can you go to my NTPC office just now, discuss this Jodhpur project and by that time I will make sure the boarding pass and all is kept at the airport, you will not miss your flight. Literally…… to NTPC headquarters, that SCOPE Complex, he explained the project to Aroop Roy Choudhary. In the next board meeting of NTPC they approved Rs 200 crore for running this project. Of course, the sad is that IIT Jodhpur hasn’t been able to use it so far. And, it’s very unfortunate, after having approved it and got it going Dr Kakodkar, in fact, last time I asked him he was feeling very bad ki I have not been able to actually use that money and implement it for problems at the IIT end which also should not happen. And that is what I want to urge all of you scientists that come up with bold ideas, come up with big ideas.
I remember a file came up to me and that’s where it’s unfortunate that in the government processes sometimes we face some very silly situations. A file came to me that a scientist had inadvertently purchased some Rs 1 lakh item which were not budgeted or something like that. And the file was being going around for years for proceedings against that scientist. It was for two scientists, one had promptly returned that money so there was no problem on him, the one who…. and I am suspecting Khuddar aadmi hoga koi.. must have been a self-respecting scientist, who said I have done no wrong so why should I be, you know, told ki you pay back that 1 lakh rupees. So that file came to me for proceedings against him and I rejected it despite the CBC’s findings. And I personally called up the CBC, I said ye kya baat hai? What is this? A scientist may, he doesn’t understand the labyrinth of laws and maybe he went out of his powers and made a lakh of rupees purchases. You can’t penalize a scientist for this small thing. What message did we give to our scientists? And we closed the case.
And that is the type of thinking that I want to urge all the senior leaders to have when you are dealing with your own scientists, with your own colleagues. Give them some flexibility, some elbow room to think differently, to think innovatively, allow them to make mistakes. Innovation is all about making mistakes. Innovation will not come out of the ……… path. So if Galileo would be worried that if I throw the apple down or whatever and damage it, we would never have found out gravity, right? So if we are going to ask a scientist, ki ok we gave you this equipment, now it’s now working alright or you have not come up with anything in two years. It’s not going to work with that way.
So I think it’s time that we reassessed and reoriented our entire method of research, development, innovation and in that I would urge all of you come to us in government suggesting better ways to run these programmes, more efficient ways to approve innovation or new projects. I am given to understand it takes months and years to approve any project in our government process. Can we define that to be a much shorter period? Can we put all of that with transparency on the websites so that there is more public interaction and public knows what kind of research we are supporting? In my own ministry I have ordered that every R&D project that’s going on let’s do an outcome analysis and see what’s happening. Because my own fear is that for years altogether 1 lakh, 2 lakh, 5 lakh, some petty sums are just being routinely given to certain projects with no true outcome or zero-based budgeting or outcome analysis, not that I expect then outcome to come out of every research, please don’t misunderstand me. But I expect the research to be carried out. I expect some action and activity on those projects, that’s all. Some serious effort to come up with something new.
And towards that end, I think a conference like this where you are talking of next generation transformational ideas coming out in the respective fields, particularly, in the field of mining and fuel industries is very very heartwarming. I am delighted that CSR has chosen this subject. I am sure that you will come up with some very good suggestions which I will hope to receive and implement in the coal and mining ministry. I do hope you will also come up with ideas how to make mining more efficient in India. I do hope India’s growth story will benefit hugely from the deliberations of this NextGen Technologies Conference. And I have no doubt in my mind that given the huge pool of talent that is available in India, India can be at the cutting edge of technologies in the future. We can show the world that we are a country with ideas, a country which can improvise continuously, a country which can implement our ideas efficiently.
We are now working with drones, for example. We are looking at aero-mapping of the Indian mining and geological reserves, lot of new things are happening. I am given to understand that asteroid mining is now going to be a buzzword. Maybe 10-20-30 years from now, with Indian or with the world’s earth resources or marine resources getting exploited or running out the world may look at going into the universe for asteroid mining between the planets of Mars and Jupiter. That’s what, I was given to understand, is now being explored by some other countries. So India will also have to remain at the forefront of these new explorations and new technologies.
And that is what I would urge all of you to look at. Investments in R&D will always give good results provided they are done with sincerity and also from the leadership angle they are allowed to be done without fear and favour. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is something I can assure all of you from a government led by Prime Minister Modi, he himself is very passionate about technology. He himself likes to experiment with newer ideas. He loves to encourage research. He’s been talking to all the ministries to see how space technologies can be used in our day-to-day workings more effectively. So here is a leader who is looking to encourage all of you. Now the ball is in your court. Now you will have to choose whether you want to grab this opportunity. And as Bill Gates said, ‘never before in history has innovation offered promise of so much to so many in so short a time.’

Thank you very much.

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