Q: So Mr Goyal my first, you have come from a long cabinet meeting. What is the mood in the government, what is the overall mood in the government today, halfway or a little more than halfway to your term?
A: Well, I think there’s a lot of satisfaction at what has happened in the last 3 years. And I tell you, even we get amazed every time we see a presentation sharing one department or the other department’s outcomes so far. But at the same time, there is certainly a lot more to be done and there is always the way forward which takes centre stage of any discussion or presentation. So, today, for example, we were discussing about the huge impact the digital push has had to the, in this country in the last 3 years. Some of the statistics were mindboggling. I tell you even sitting in the government one doesn’t realize what all has happened. A statistic that comes to my mind is the laying of optic fiber cable, for example. So far, till 2014, some 300-400 kms of optic fiber had been laid, in the last 3 years, over a lakh of kilometers of optic fiber has been laid. And the thing just keeps going on and on every new statistic that we see.
Today also we saw the commitment we had made earlier in the budget about the government e-marketplace, what a beautiful site has been created, where all the procurement of government and government public sector undertakings, and also possibly the sale of whatever goods and services they do could move into a transparent electronic platform and save the nation thousands of crores. So there are huge amount of impactful things happening in the government. We discussed the GST, by the way, in a big way, the game changing impact that GST could have on each of us in our lives. So there is a lot that has happened and, to my mind, this 3-year period will go down as probably the most impactful period for the structural changes that this economy and country are going through.
But, I promise you, not a single moment is taken up trying to be boastful or trying to just draw satisfaction for what has happened. Every single moment is used to plan for the future, to plan for a better future. And I assure you the plans are huge, and we stand committed to making this country truly a superpower.
Q: Mr Goyal, what about UP? You made a comment today, I think today or yesterday, I have got the comment. You made a comment.
A: I do 4 to 5 public interactions in a day, so I must have made a lot of comments.
Q: Yeah, you always make comments Mr Goyal. And I keep noticing your comments. So you said, you have been issuing warnings to UP power officials. I am not misquoting you, last couple of days particularly. I thought since I am meeting you I should keep track of what you have been doing. Today, it was reported that you had hinted at a deep rot in the UP power sector and there’s a feeling there should be a white paper on it. Now I remember on numerous occasions you as Union Minister talking about the burden of inheriting a corrupt system. So can you share some more exclusive details with us this evening, how deep the rot ….
A: You know, when we came into government at the centre, also we had this feeling that the nation should know really what the situation on the ground is. And at that time also we had deliberated on whether we need to come out with a white paper on the state of the country, the state of the economy. But at that point of time, and I think very rightly so, it was felt that sometimes you should let the reality not get exposed too much, let it remain buried. Because, after all, we have an international audience, we have an international image, and the country had to overcome all of those burdens of the past.
Q: No, but has the image, the international audience is there now also, or has it changed after the UP elections?
A: I will explain. No, at the centre we thought that it is important that we take care of the problems rather than highlighting those problems and the nation needed that confidence that good things are happening. This time around when we are seeing what the state of affairs in Uttar Pradesh is, it’s very very disturbing. And in this situation, I am actually reflecting that it may be good to come out with a paper which highlights what the reality on the ground is more so, so that we have a benchmark to what we have to do. The people are conscious that we have, we know what had happened in the past and that we are determined to set it right. For example, I will be signing with the Uttar Pradesh honorable Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath day after tomorrow, on the 14th, on the birth anniversary of Bharat Ratna, Babasaheb Ambedkarji, the Power For All 24/7 document. Now the entire country has joined the central government’s effort except Uttar Pradesh, 3 years of relentless pursuit, I could not convince the state government. And I used to always wonder why? Why don’t they want to serve their people? Why are they hesitating to join this Power For All document?
Now I understand it, because the last one month, as each issue has got flagged off and as each issue is getting unfurled, I am realizing that it’s not as if power has not reached millions of homes. There are millions of homes who are using katiya electricity; the power theft is rampant over there. And then when I had asked, why did it happen, it’s not as if all of them wanted to steal power. Despite their efforts to get a formal or an official connection, they were not given an official connection, they were encouraged to steal power. And I don’t know if you saw….
Q: I saw your comment on the 10th April on Youtube and you said, ‘change your habits, change your expenses’ and you said I am saying this for linesmen, inspectors, quality checkers, contractors; anybody who has ….. problem with the new system should just resign and get out. You said that. That was a, I say that is a classic Piyush Goyal statement. You know, problem is after Mr Goyal has become a Minister, he’s become very cautious, he has become very diplomatic. Earlier, when he was BJP Spokesperson, he was little undiplomatic on my programmes. Nowadays, he’s undiplomatic only on Youtube. It was your comment right?
A: No, no I will tell you what happened.
Q: You got angry?
A: On the 11th evening, 11th March as the results came in, we approached the Uttar Pradesh officials and we said now atleast let’s start working on the Power For All document. And you will be happy to know, from 11th evening itself, teams of the centre and the state had been working burning the midnight oil, finalizing the terms of the future, the engagement with the state. Now as they were working, I think last weekend, Saturday-Sunday, despite being a holiday, the entire team from UP was down here. Our office was working. I don’t know, some of them may be sitting here as I see some familiar faces. And they were all working in the office. The honorable Minister, Mr Shrikant Sharma, had come down from Lucknow and we were sitting in the Mines Ministry and discussing something. I said let’s go and encourage all the officials who are working on a holiday over the weekend. I promise you, we had gone to encourage them to do the job well and fast. But you know, sometimes I speak my mind and I got talking, and the encouragement turned towards also encouraging honesty in the team. And I think I said no wrong. I gave them an opportunity that it’s good that they have to turn a new leaf. The new government led by Yogi Adityanathji is going to be intolerant to corruption just like we have been at the centre.
And I assure you that we will be able to turn around that DISCOM, we will be able to make profits in that DISCOM, while giving affordable, 24/7 power to all the people of Uttar Pradesh within the existing system.
Q: Just to push the envelope Mr Piyush Goyal, at the end of the day you are a politician. Politicians are populists. When you are a populist, it has its challenges. And democracy has its challenges Mr Goyal, and populism is directly opposite to technology development. I can read out right now, right here, from the BJP manifesto for the Uttar Pradesh elections to give you an example of the populism, and I have only two questions to ask you. How long can free power lag down in new investments, is privatization the only way forward, that’s question number one.
A: Well, first of all, I don’t see anything wrong in being popular. After all, when I attacked corruption I think it only made me a little more popular amongst all the people sitting in this room. Everybody is very very disturbed about the levels of corruption in this country and everybody wants to be a part of the change. And, to my mind, serving the poor with low-cost services, serving the farmers who are, after all, giving us the delicious dinner that I think ELECRAMA has organized after this program, those people are having a raw deal over so many years. They are still, large number of farmers are small and marginal farmers, large number of them are dependent on the weather God for their subsistence. And in this situation, I don’t think anybody can grudge some services, some benefits being given to the poor, to the farmers of this country. The problem is not that electricity is not available or low-cost electricity is not available. Even today, NTPC, the government utility, gives power at an average cost of Rs 3 a unit across the country, some places more, some places less but the average is still only Rs 3.
A lot of it is because of bad management of the system. A lot of it is because the Chief Minister himself proudly said in a public programme during the elections, that देखिये हमारी सरकार कितनी अच्छी है, हमने तो बिजली चोरी करने वाले या tax चोरी करने वालों पे भी कभी कोई काम नहीं किया, कोई action नहीं लिया | Now that was their populist slogan during the election. While our government and our representatives are screaming from the rooftop that we will not spare anybody who is indulging in corruption.
Q: Was that because of populism or corruption? You know, one thing, there is never any populism…
A: Well, they thought corruption and populism go together hand in hand, because the katiyabaz also encourages populism. It probably saves a few rupees in the electricity bills, but people of India understand that until we have honest administration we cannot progress this country. The GST is going to be a big move which is going to be quite unsettling in the first few months, atleast to those who are so used to not declaring their sales, not declaring their business profits or not declaring their turnovers honestly. But in the long run, and I think the long run is not very long, it’s a reasonably in the near future we will see a lot of benefits coming out of it. This government has a belief and a strong belief that good economics makes for good politics. You see all our actions, whether it’s demonetization, whether it’s our efforts to bring more and more probity and honesty in our procurement of power, procurement of renewable energy, the giving out of natural resources like coal mines or other mines, the giving out of linkages of coal, the exploration and exploitation contracts – everything, we have made transparency as the hallmark of this government. And despite it not being very populist I think the people of India have liked it, and one after the other election results only go to encourage us to be more firm in our belief that honesty and good governance is what this country wants.
Q: Yeah, but Mr Goyal for good politics you need an opposition; you also need a good opposition. Where is the opposition? There is a genuine fear that the absence of an opposition is not good for the country?
A: It’s not good for any Republic also.
Q: I can’t say the opposition doesn’t come on the Republic, I hope they come on the Republic.
A: After all, when we look at any vibrant democracy, a good republic, you are looking at the bureaucracy, you are looking at the judiciary, you are looking at the political establishment, and you are looking at the media as the 4 pillars. Each one has an important role. Sadly, a lot of people have made obstructionism as the way of running politics or being in the opposition. After all, take a recent example. We decided that we will give teeth to the Backward Classes Commission, and it was decided that it will be a constitutional authority to help further the cause of upliftment of the backward classes. In the Lok Sabha, it was agreed and almost everybody supported it. And I don’t think anybody can have any objection to trying and help a socially marginalized section of society come up in life. But in the Rajya Sabha they chose to oppose it, and referred it to a select committee instead of demonstrating to the people that there is still concern amongst the opposition for the backward classes. They did the same thing with the Prevention of Corruption Act Amendment. They did the same thing with our effort to clean electoral politics by bringing amendments in the way political donations are given. While in the Lok Sabha it was passed, in the Rajya Sabha they chose to oppose it. Now I don’t understand why these double standards.
Q: So, then there are only two options Mr Goyal. Either you do away with the Rajya Sabha or you have simultaneous elections, I think it’s because your government is so irritated with what’s going on in the Rajya Sabha that you are talking of simultaneous elections in the first place. Common on Mr Goyal, it’s time, no Mr Goyal it is 9 o’clock, past 9, I have not done Newshour for 4 months. And, you know, I have been set up here with you, so you might as well Mr Goyal.
A: And for a change, you are allowing me to talk also.
Q: My bad habit. I will get over it, only for 3 weeks now Mr Goyal. I will come back to my usual self. I am out of practice, yeah. I am just out of practice. But tell me, obviously, you are irritated with what’s happening in the Rajya Sabha?
A: Not at all. I come from the Rajya Sabha, of course, I wouldn’t be even here today. The Rajya Sabha has a very very important role to play. And I think the framers of the constitution have designed it beautifully. The fact that the Rajya Sabha changes its composition once in two years is truly a good way to keep checks and balances in the system so that any party does not have a runaway situation at any point of time. So I at all would be the last fellow who would at all object to the Rajya Sabha. Simultaneous elections are good for the economy, because otherwise, governments are in perpetual election mode. So we just finished UP and we are getting into Gujarat.
Q: Just to update our audience about idea of the simultaneous election it means in India there will be one election every 5 years, all the states and the centre will go for one single election and there won’t be any election every 4 months.
A: So that politics doesn’t overtake good governance and economics. Otherwise, very often, (a) the model code of conduct comes in, (b) then the populist issues do come in, and states or centre are all the time in election mode. Look at the situation, you finish the central parliamentary election, soon thereafter you have Maharashtra, Jharkhand, Haryana. Soon thereafter you have probably Delhi, then Bihar, then you come into Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, no before that we had Assam and a few other states. Before that we had the southern states. So it’s a perpetual election mode every 6 months. We have just finished Uttar Pradesh. We are having the Municipal Corporation in Delhi, after that we will have Gujarat and Himachal, soon after Karnataka, soon after Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh. So this nation spends money frequently, may not be good for the advertising revenue of the media maybe, simultaneous elections. But I think for the nation it will be good. We will have governments getting down to business for a proper term. And I am sure, the cost saving will run into thousands of crores.
Q: Mr Goyal, I can assure you the advertising revenue of news channels does not match the pockets of political parties.
Can I take a slop poll here about how many people support the idea of simultaneous elections? You support, India should have once, that’s almost what, 80% to 90% of the audience.
A: The others are tired of raising their hands.
Q: Well, I think, I personally think that after demonetization, simultaneous elections could be as dramatic an idea in India to change things. You know, I know you made …….. because we have election coverage every 4 months. But, beyond that if you ask, we are obsessed about party politics all the time, and we don’t give enough time to issues of governance. And the sole reason for this is every 4 months there’s an election and all political parties believe that the….. election is the most important. In fact, if you go to Bangaluru they don’t understand why the MCD elections in Delhi is being fought like World War II. You know, but that’s what it’s become.
A: I promise you Arnab, we are all missing you. Now, let’s get Republic up and above quickly. We really need to see you at 9 o’clock now.
Q: What are you going to watch Mr Goyal? You watch Republic? Or is Minister not allowed to do brand endorsements?
A: No, I wish I get time at 9 o’clock to watch the news. But I will watch the repeat telecast late night.
Q: Fantastic. Well, I have really enjoyed this conversation. I can go on and on and on. There’s a dinner time that’s approaching but I think it would be only fair that the Minister is here, there’s a wonderful audience here, if you would like to throw a couple of questions to the audience. Should we just poke the mike around a bit Mr Goyal? I think, I don’t want to hog the limelight.
A: I have always enjoyed coming to the programmes of ELECRAMA, they are doing some very good work for our industry. In fact, even the UP story, I would urge all of you and, by the way, I have already got a couple of whistleblower messages from amongst you about some things in UP and serious action is being taken on that also. For the matter, somebody also messaged me that we, in fact, complained to you and the guy got promoted. So I got psyched out, you know, I got the complaint about somebody, the investigation had started but he got promoted. Now in government, there are processes so I was psyched out. I immediately called the UP Minister. He said this must have happened through some process which was running for the last one year. But we are taking action, but we will have to go through a process of investigation and check it.
The big picture is that look, if we all want to be a part of the change, then you will have to be the change first, you will have to make up your mind that you will not give a bribe or corrupt the system at any point of time. And I would like to appeal to all of you and through you to the entire power sector supplier industry, please do not encourage anybody at all by giving them bribes. And wherever you are aware of situation where people have been indulging in corrupt practices or, traditionally, there’s been corruption please share it with us, so that we can take action. You know how we did in the solar power procurement, in the wind power procurement now we started. How we procured LED bulbs. How we set up guidelines to encourage reverse bidding or e-procurement for all our goods. And we have been able to bring down prices drastically, and bring honesty into the system.
I want to appeal to all of you, please become whistleblowers wherever you can, but genuinely, now if you lose a contract don’t try to fix the officer by becoming a complainant.
Q: I think that’s as straight as can be. And I am not for flattering, but I think, you know, Mr Goyal is extremely involved, hard working, energetic and passionate Minister. If there would be many many more Ministers like him I am sure, each sector would sparkle. I think you have done a terrific job. I don’t flatter people.
A: I don’t know something was wrong to me.
Q: But I like to see you involved in your sector, and I think these sectors merged to ……………….. We will take a couple of questions Mr Goyal. I agree with you, we compliment he did that Youtube Video has gone so viral. I have got 100 people forward it to me and said please convey our thanks to the Minister for being so bold enough. The public definitely liked it it’s a populist move but it’s a genuine move. So, from the industry side, thank you for having a continuous dialogue with us. I have two things to say sir, one is your involvement in the DISCOM now in UP. I think that’s ……… if it turnaround UP it gives a very strong message around the country because if UP can be turned around from where it is today, then we have won the game. The UDAY is really a new uday. On the renewable side sir, on rooftop I have a suggestion. You know, IIT Bombay did a study recently that all roofs in Bombay have rooftop solar will generate 1750 MW of power. And your theme of connecting that to e-mobility, that will take out the day time peaks on all the large cities. So if you do these kind of studies with a real ground level things are done and then industry gets engaged with it so it will be a big thing and we will support. Other thing we will expect is with DISCOMs now that you are getting involved, if challenge has come from DISCOM to the industry because from our side we have utility outreach programme, we are going out and talking to sales. But from your side, it’s also ………………… we have these five objectives from the government side, we from industry side will be very happy to take that up.
A: Thank you, they are good suggestions but since you have asked me, I have three or four quick ways which can really help me serve you and the people of India better. I still have to see that $15 smart meter. I am still waiting for that to happen. Uttar Pradesh has decided to put a smart meter in every home. So you now have a straight visible business of about 20-22 crore people, so about 40 million smart meters required in Uttar Pradesh alone in the entire state. And, by the way, you will be amazed how it used to work. Now I think that’s why I thought of white paper. While on the one hand, there were nearly 6 or 7 or possibly 8 million homes which have electricity but an illegal connection. There are 6.3 million people, so these don’t obviously have a meter because they have an illegal connection. Amongst the legal connections, there are 6.3 million homes who don’t have a meter, they have an unmetered connection.
So Arnab since you asked for what I meant by what are the problems or challenges. Now these 6.3 million homes are all I am told showing a half kilowatt or 1 kilowatt power connection, now within that I don’t know how many kilowatts they are using, God alone knows. But since it’s unmetered, they are trying to pass on the theft into the consumption of these unmetered connections. So the losses which are declared at some 30 odd percent are probably actually 50 percent in that state because the loss is being hidden within the unmetered connections. So I found out that these homes, these unmetered homes are consuming about 5 units at an average per day. Now all of you are from the electrical industry. A poor person’s home who is claiming that he only has 1 kilowatt, with his, howsoever much he may run his light bulbs or fan or refrigerator can’t consume 5 units every day, we all know that.
Now all of that is leading to large amount of losses, having said that, now if I try to get them to meter these 6.3 million homes and suddenly give them a bill which is going to be many fold, it’s not going to work also. So we will have to balance actual honesty into the system yet not cause too much of a stress on the pocket of the poor person. That delicate balance is where good economics and good politics have to merge and yet serve the people well.
Q: Sir, one suggestion, since UP power situation is in a mode of restarting, why not you arrange a joint meeting with the UP State Electricity Board and with the ……. I will be happy to host it.
A: Excellent idea, I will do that right away. We would like to involve all of you in this story.
Q: Our request ….. Arnab your request this last time you came to us, creating awareness among general public against power theft, electricity worth about 100,000 crores is stolen every year across the country. This is data which can be …… If you create awareness, you know, it could be a huge benefit to all of us.
I agree with you sir.
Q:Since I have got the mike, I will take the precedent sir.
A : Some guys never stop talking.
Q: Sir, I only try to emulate you. And then, of course, I have got Arnab as my brother, you know, so if, he is somebody I emulate somebody’s who is like a brother so you can’t help me in that.
A: Dinner 12 बजे के बाद ही serve होगा मुझे लगता है?
Q: Sir, don’t worry, we will serve it as breakfast.
A : Champagne breakfast?
Q: Yes sir, sure. Sir, an area of concern for us is that, you know, MSME in India has virtually stagnated in terms of technology. And I know it’s an area of big concern for you. But how do we now get the startup concept into the MSMEs and how do you further the technology segment in the MSMEs, because they are not just the backbone of India but I think they are the backbone of the world economy now.
A: Very good point you have raised, in fact, that’s an area of concern amongst all of us. Today, at the end of the cabinet when we were just having tea, also one of the Ministers flagged off this issue with me that we will really have to reignite the animal spirits in the MSME sector. I agree with you that over the last few years, possibly, the sector has had a lot of challenges of technological upgradation, maybe, adequate capitalization, ability to expand or serve at larger scales which are now becoming the order of the day. So it’s a point that I would love to actually hear from some of you how we can help that sector, how we can encourage that sector to prosper even more. We are concerned because that is the largest exporter in the country. That sector creates the maximum job opportunities or working opportunities, and to my mind, the future of India, the new India that we talk of, the India of possibilities, the India of opportunities can only be driven through the MSME sector. So it’s a good question, I am sure all of you will have some ideas on that and we will be happy to engage and work together to help the MSME sector. We do have price preference for the smaller manufacturers. We do have, you know, no earnest money deposit. We have lesser qualification criteria, all of that is standard stuff. Can we think of something out of the box to support the MSMEs, I am happy to hear from you.
Q: I will wrap it up with this. We opened it up for questions which was not planned. But I want to thank you Piyush Goyal for fascinating conversation, good to see you once again. And congratulations for all the good work that he is doing. Thank you Piyush, thank you.
A: Thank you Arnab and all the very best for the Republic. May the flag fly high.