October 5, 2017

Speaking at opening session of India Economic Summit, in New Delhi

…coming up with, probably, the narrative for the future. So, in some sense, what you just spoke about is pretty much accurate. Narratives do tend to set agendas, tend to set the mood of the nation. And, in some sense, that’s exactly what India is going through – a changing narrative. Over the years, India was well known for its, maybe for its Yoga, Ayurveda, Cricket – the narrative is changing. Brand India is being built up across the world now. India is being now recognised as a country, which is honest in its dealings. India is now being recognised as a country where technology drives growth.

So, you have Sunil Bharti Mittal, first generation entrepreneur, started from the grassroots and created an international conglomerate. You have a nation, which is probably going to give Visa and MasterCard a run for their money with apps like BHIM app, which will make digital transactions so simple and so cheap, so easy that it may change the way the world does business.

The narrative in India is changing. And that narrative is changing on the back of a very simple fundamental truth that megastructures can’t be built on a weak foundation. And if India has to prepare itself for the global challenges of tomorrow, we will need to have a strong foundation, a framework from which we plan for not a year or two of growth, not a year or two or five years of prosperity, but decades of prosperity for the people of India.

And, clearly, with the kind of opportunity that exists in India, a billion people aspiring for a better quality of life, I think there is no better place in the world today to invest in, there is no larger market to service than the Indian market and there is no pole which is going to be more important than India around which the world economy can flourish, can grow. That’s I think the narrative I see going forward.

Q: Thank you, I love that notion of millennials as solution makers. That’s really great. Together, I hope my children grow up to become solution makers. And it does (Inaudible) something that we need to reconceptualise narratives about changing mindsets. We need to think of millenials differently. We need to think of productivity. We need to think of all these different issues at surface. I would like to have a second round of (Inaudible). What are the mindset challenges that you face and how can we actually use these narratives to change, because I think that’s at the root of this. How do we get people to change these narratives? And, maybe I can come back to you Minister with regard to that because that is I think part of your (Inaudible) self and your new portfolio?

A: We have a railway system that over a century ago was initiated for a different purpose, but today has become the lifeline of connectivity or transport in the country. As I am diving deeper into the system as it exists, I find that layers of bureaucracy have been built up over every single incident that must have happened in the last 100 years. So, you have one problem, to address that you add one more layer into the working, into the system. And over the years, you have created a system that is very slow to move. It takes ages to get anything happening.

And look at the multifarious losses to the Indian economy. It causes delays. It loses focus on costs. It loses focus on efficiency. And then, whatever investments we are making, it is not as effective as it should have been. But, I personally believe it’s not a very difficult thing to change that mindset. I had a similar challenge three years ago when India had almost reconciled that we will always be short of coal, we will always be short of power in this country. Renewable energy was being looked upon with fear of very high costs, and very little was being done to really change all that.

When this government came in, Prime Minister Modi gave me a few very simple nuggets, or I could call them commandments, very similar to what Sunil must be using or Deepali uses in her business, what Ajay must be grappling with on a day-to-day basis. Simple things like unless you monitor the work and hold people accountable, you are not going to get different outcomes. Very simple things like get as much transparent as you can and address the challenge of corruption. Very simple things like, go for economies of scale and implement fast and you are bound to bring down costs.

And when we brought in these concepts into the working of government, we found transformational results. Barely 15 months into my first job, we were able to declare that the country is power-surplus, the country has sufficient coal, and for 18 months in a row, I had to regulate production of coal in a country like India, which was for the last 50 years short of coal. For 18 months, I had to regulate production of coal, because there was not enough offtake of that product.

I think the same thing can happen in the railways. We have a million-plus people working in the railways. I think they are very sincere. I think they want to do a lot for the country. If we can provide that enabling environment, we can empower them. I have no doubt in my mind that once again that can become the vehicle, which will change the dynamics or the economic perspective in India.

I was assessing just about 3 or 4 days ago, in an engagement with the top leadership of the railways what the investment potential in the railways is, and what that could mean for jobs. And my own sense is that may not be directly in a job in the railways, which then gets reflected in numbers, but certainly, through engaging people to work in a variety of different areas across the system. Not less than a million jobs can be created in less than 12 months – only in the railways alone, and the ecosystem around the railways.

The track renewal programme, the safety related maintenance programme has such a large backlog that if I can aggressively go for that that alone will create over 200,000 jobs. When I look at the amount of real estate that the railways has in terms of stations, in terms of prime parcels of land and use that to leverage economic growth, also to leverage monetization of those assets, so that I don’t have to stress my railway passenger with more costs.

If I look at the amount of investments already in the pipeline and activate that going forward faster, cut down the bureaucratic layers, I think that alone can add another 200-250,000 jobs, existing projects. So, I think the potential is huge. It’s the mindset change, which will transform India. We have seen that happen in sector after sector, it’s the turn of the railways now.

And, look at the scale at which we have moved things. Yesterday, the Prime Minister was talking about simple thing like LED bulbs. It may sound very small, but our LED programme today is leading the revolution in the world. When I go to Europe, every European Power Minister tells me that thanks to India’s leadership in LEDs, they have been able to bring down their costs of converting to LED lighting.

The United States is far-far behind any effort to try and really combat climate change through affirmative action, and we have been able to see transformative results. Just the LED programme alone in the last 27 months, we have seen about 700 million LED bulbs being sold in the country – 700 million, with not a single cent of government subsidy or support. Now that itself is going to bring down our power consumption by about 11%. It’s going to bring down the carbon dioxide emission by about 80 million tonnes annually. It’s going to bring down consumer’s power bills by $6.5 billion annually, and it will save us about $20 billion of fresh investments. Maybe some of the participants of this may not like that idea, but it will save the country $20 billion of investments in more coal-powered thermal plants in the future.

So, I think transformative results are possible. It’s the self-confidence of the leadership and the vision that we provide to the nation that’s going to determine future success of this country.

Q: It was a very, Minister, you in a way summed up the challenges and the opportunities here. If we can get that mindset changed, it’s really not, these are not simple steps but if you can get the people around, you can accomplish great things. And, I would love to invite others on the panel to talk about really how that narrative, plus that change in mindset can lead to these actions that really have amazing results?

A: Can I just add a little bit? I think just to change the perspective from what Sunil just mentioned, we have had 3 major interactions under the auspices of NITI Aayog. We had Michael Porter coming in to talk to us, Bill Gates and the Deputy Prime Minister of Singapore, Tharman Shanmugaratnam. All three talked about the changing nature of jobs worldwide, and I think India is going through the same churn. What Sunil just spoke about companies bringing down their employment is a very good sign, in fact.

The fact that today the youth of tomorrow is not looking to be a job seeker alone; he wants to be a job creator. The country today in India also is seeing more and more young people wanting to become entrepreneurs. And, with the advent of 3D manufacturing, with artificial intelligence, with innovation playing central role, more and more people are getting engaged on their own and are looking to become franchisees, looking to become people who come up with ideas, people who want to be independent.

I will give you a simple example. Yesterday, I was assessing that I have about 2000 railway stations where I don’t have a booking office. These are very small remote stations which are called hauled stations. And, I often get request from Members of Parliament that they want a booking office. So, while talking to my people, we said if we open a booking office, we will probably give 4 people a job. We will have 3 and then a replacement on holidays. So, maybe the numbers on the balance sheet of the company or the corporation, the Indian Railways, will increase by 4.

But rather than that, I would allow a local entrepreneur from that village, or maybe a young girl from that village to take a small smart phone and generate a ticket out of her smart phone over there.

So, that will create a person, an entrepreneur who will be incentivised to make sure everybody who comes in there buys a ticket, because his commission is going to be what he earns. So, I am not stressing the balance sheet of the railways, which already is quite stressed. But at the same time I am creating transparency in the system, everybody who comes there gets an opportunity to pay for his ticket and not suffer any ignominy on the way. And I am creating a job which will never get reflected in any number. But, that’s the spirit of tomorrow.

Q: Now, I am going to be a bit unfair to close this session, because we have about 7 minutes. We have spoken about, and we have learnt and heard from you about inspiring narratives, but again, I said I will be a bit unfair, so I would love to each of you to just pick one word that you think forward, that would sum up your view of that narrative, and also the one issue that you would like to see some progress being made, a lot of progress being made, a transformation to occur as a result of this Summit. So, again …I am going to hold you to one word about what you think about the future, and one issue that you think this Summit can move the needle on?

A: I think – trust. The fact that we can trust people of India, and the people of India can trust us is very important. It brings self-confidence in the system. And, that also brings the Can-Do and Will-Do spirit into the nation. The fact that we can trust our own ability, the ability of our people, the ability of our nation and once we trust that, we can combat climate change, we can combat terrorism, we can combat any kind of pessimism in this system. So, I have full faith and hope that this country is a country where trust plays a very important role around the future.


Next Speech

September 28, 2017 Speaking at Press conference, in Ahmedabad

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