His Excellency, the Vice President of India, Shri M Venkaiah Naiduji, Dr VK Saraswat, member of the NITI Aayog, someone who has contributed to the nation’s technological journey for several decades, Shri Ashvani Lohaniji, my colleague in the Railway Ministry and someone known to be a doer and very effective implementer of fast-track major projects, Shri Keshav Chandra who has served the Indian Railways for several years, finally as member of the railway board, other distinguished guests on the dais, off the dais, ladies and gentlemen.
I was very delighted when I first heard about this Conference on technological advancements in the Railways and Metro System. More so, because this government led by Prime Minister Shri Modi, has been extremely focused on driving growth through innovation, through technology and leveraging on development, on innovation to get outcomes which serve the people of India.
In fact, Steve Jobs had once said, ‘Innovation is the only key to success.’ If at all a nation is recognized in the comity of nations, it is by the level of new ideas that that nation throws up, it is by the level of research that is done in that nation. And if one was to look at our history, also of the Indian railways, and I say this with a little bit of sadness that the last major good train that was introduced in the Indian Railways with whatever additional speed and comfort and safety features was in 1969, when the Rajdhani was introduced. I am told many people even criticized the Rajdhani’s introduction at that point of time. And from 1969 to 2017, we have not embarked on any major new technological initiative that will take us to international standards of passenger safety, comfort, convenience, speed in the last nearly 50 years.
The metro did certainly bring a relief to suburban consumers, with its agility, with its speed, with its comfort. I personally am a big fan of the metro, I use it every time I have to come from the airport or go to the airport in Delhi, or to some far off programme in Faridabad or distinct suburbs of Delhi. And for that the nation will ever be grateful to his Excellency Shri Venkaiah Naiduji, for having fast-tracked the roll out of metros across the country. I believe there are 35-40 projects in the pipeline, which will truly transform the way suburban rail travel or suburban transportation happens. But, such initiatives in the Indian Railways now need a greater thrust and I am sure all these 10 sessions that are going to be held during the course of this Conference will educate us, will help us in our own plans, in our own vision, in taking forward the commitment that we have made to the people of India to make Indian rail safe, to make Indian rail, to make Indian rail secure, to improve the levels of passenger amenities, bring in comfort levels, punctuality and efficiency.
In fact, if I can quote sir from your speech in the Indian Institute of Science in Bengaluru, just recently on the 27th of September, Venkaiah Garu said, “Innovation plays a key role in driving the knowledge-based economy.” How true are these words?
Today, if one was to assess the success of large parts of the developed world, we could look at the United States; we could look at Sweden, Finland, Switzerland, many parts of Europe. If you look at Japan, what has distinguished them, and what has been the driver of their growth? It has been research, it has been innovation, it has been new ideas, it’s been that ecosystem, which encouraged scientists, which encouraged researchers to think out of the box – which encouraged scientists to fail. Because, after all, unless you try and unless you fail. Hopefully everybody doesn’t fail, we hit it right many times, first time right also.
But I think the sheer ability and the confidence to fail in your research, but persevere, nevertheless, is truly what defines a good ecosystem, which encourages research, which encourages people to go beyond the boundaries of conventional thinking. And I do hope that the steps taken in the last two or three years and our plans in the future will help create that ecosystem, will help encourage the scientists of India not to go to NASA and bring technologies to the United States, but to serve India, work in India and help India become the nerve centre of new technologies of innovation in the world, going forward.
I remember when I was a new Minister and since we are at the Manekshaw Centre, I am reminded of it more particularly, though I have said it on some other occasions. Venkaiah Garu, it was at the Manekshaw Centre, you have a larger hall here? There is another larger hall. So, it was in that hall, not in this hall. There I was addressing possibly the NTPC Annual Day or one of the programmes like that, when I was asked a question about my budget for research and development. And I said, I have no budget for research and development, and I did not mean… and most of the audience was stunned. But I think they lost the point, I was not saying that there is no budget. Every organization in government, Institutes of Science, IITs, all our PSUs, we have a budget for R&D.
Personally, I believe a budget is a limitation, a budget actually holds you back and then you have allocations of budget which can never allow a scientist or a researcher to really flourish the way he wants to, and personally, I believe there cannot be a budget to a scientific project, there cannot be a budget, which restricts innovation.
Prime Minister Modi very often tells us, and honourable Vice President would have, on many occasions, had the opportunity to, as have I to hear this from him, that really India’s time has come to lead the world. We don’t have to always follow what the other countries do, it’s time we led the world. And I am delighted that today, there are many areas where we are leading world initiatives, be it climate change, our effort to introduce renewable energy is bearing fruit. You might have read that only yesterday morning at 4 o’clock, an auction, wind auction, which started day before yesterday, ended at 4 o’clock yesterday morning, and wind power prices have become less than 50% of what they were 3 years ago.
Solar prices are down to one-third of what was being paid just a few years ago. The honourable Prime Minister recently spoke about the youth success we have had in our LED programme, a programme where India has truly led the world, with prices reducing by almost 85-90%, and the roll out of LED lighting in the country being the largest roll out of a programme ever embarked anywhere in the world, nearly 700 million LED bulbs sold, without any government subsidy in the first two years.
Dr Saraswat was just speaking about speed, skill and safety. We are embarking in the railways on a massive programme to ensure safety of the entire network and there is no limitation of budget. The first thing I had to do was to get the mindset that there is no limitation of funds as much money as is required is available. I am not even saving ‘will be made available’ – ‘is available,’ for safety. But I cannot make it safe unless you come up with good ideas, with new ideas. I have been looking for a night vision to improve the night vision, particularly in foggy weather. We have been looking for lighting of railway coaches and locomotives with night fog vision equipment. We are looking how to make the signalling system better. We are trying to see how can we lay tracks faster, more efficiently. How can we predict track failure or fracture?
All of these things are things, which over the last many years, have been in our knowledge. We are very much aware of it, many cases innovation or technological advancements have happened, albeit in small measures. But I do believe the time has come for us to aggressively go in for newer technologies, better ways of doing work. We will have to all of us work collectively, in which the space department is helping us, ISRO is helping us to good measure. The DRDO and RDSO can work in combination with each other to see what can be done, faster, smarter.
And I would appeal to all of you in this technological advancements in railways and metros Conference to come up with ideas, which we in the railways are very happy to wherever necessary experiment, wherever possible implement, and let us collectively make this effort, fast-track this effort, to really make our passenger experience a delightful experience, a satisfactory experience.
There are lot of futuristic ideas Mr Lohani and his team are working on, we would love to engage with experts with different areas, where we can look at making environment better, making stations and passenger conveniences better. We would love to see how we can make footbridges, for example, faster, and more secure, an area which is really we are seized of as we speak. Train collision is an area, which we are really concerned about, which we would love to make faster. Can we design better locomotives, better coaches, can we design better evacuation methodologies for garbage. There are area upon area where there is possibility of doing something better and I would appeal to all of you to be a part of this revolution that the country is going through, that the railways is engaged in.
I am delighted that our colleagues who have, even though they have retired from different services, be it the military engineering services, be it the railways are all equally passionate about serving this county. That is the beauty of our team in India and I compliment all of you for your passion, for your perseverance, for your commitment to serve this country. And let us all work together in this spirit of cooperation, in this spirit of oneness, in this spirit of public service, to truly invigorate in the Indian railways a better and brighter future for the people of India.
My best wishes to this Conference, and I am really very-very grateful that honourable Vice President has given his time. We will be very-very enlightened by his views. He is a leader who has led from the front. He is a leader who has from his early days, coming from a farmer’s family served the nation through a long career in student life, in public life, in political life. Somebody who has always been extremely passionate in his work for the people of India, in his work to ensure that every poor person in this country, every farmer in this country, has a better quality of life, has a better future to look up to, every child in this country, who aspires for a bright future, in terms of good education, in terms of good skills, in terms of good working opportunities.
Honourable Vice President has been one leader who has served this nation relentlessly for over 45 years and I am sure our Conference will be blessed, both by his presence and by his wisdom.
Thank very much Honourable Vice President for being with us, thank you very much ladies and gentlemen.
October 6, 2017 Speaking at World Economic Forum, 2nd day session in New Delhi