March 16, 2018

Speaking at ‘Rising India Summit’ of CNN News18 along with Shri Nitin Gadkari, in New Delhi

Thank you, thank you very much Sakha, Namaskar Saathiyo.. great welcome and thank you to the two honorable Ministers as well. Great to be here and great to see all of you. It’s always a very interesting phenomenon to be not just facing a television camera, facing a live audience, have two critical decision makers and actually throw some light on what is the India story, what’s going on, how far have we come in these last 4 years, if at all, because there are two views. The Opposition as we are seeing already wants us to believe that India is sinking, and here we have our topic ‘India is Rising.’ So, I hope that with the presence of the two honorable Ministers, we will have some clarity on what is the India story. So, welcome to both of you and thank you so much for spending time with us.

Q: Mr Goyal, let’s hear from you then. What’s the story of Indian railway sir under you. You know, we keep hearing India is going to completely change in 2022, I was reading in the papers today there’s Mission 2024 also. I thought I must ask you today, if I was to travel in an Indian train, say 2025, what should I be looking out for?

A: You will find the world’s best railway system working in India.

Q: Best railway system in the world? With clean toilets, train running on time, good air conditioning?

A: I think it’s an entire experience. We have two major customer elements, we have the goods traffic and we have the passenger traffic. In terms of goods traffic, I think what the people want is a predictable timely delivery of their goods, safe and secure, and reasonable and affordable freight rates. On the passenger side, you are looking for, if I may suggest, the charm of the old Indian railways coming back. You want good catering, you want clean coaches, clean stations. One is looking for high levels of safety, one wants some modern technological interventions coming into the system, and I think we are working on several fronts which will make Indian railways the world’s safest, most comfortable and most affordable railway where a rich man can travel to enjoy the charm of the railways, but the poorest of the poor will have this as his mode of transport which is ultimately the social objective of any national utility.

Q: I must tell both of you that today we have a lot of fact checkers in the audience. We have a whole range of economic policy watchers and editors who are all armed with data, so do bear in mind that everything you say is being fact checked and will be cross checked.

A: नहीं आपको कुछ ज़रा भी संकेत है कि… धमकी दे रहे हो या संकेत है?

Q: नहीं, नहीं धमकी नहीं, बस बता रहा हूँ आपको, बता रहा हूँ चूँकि कितनी बार क्या होता है, you know, there’s data points, which are thrown in and they just get washed aside, so I want you to know that won’t happen today. So, here is data no one sir, the latest CAG report suggests that the railways operating ratio has weakened to 16-year low of 96.5 in 2016-17. How do I understand this, please explain to me?

A: बहुत स्वाभाविक है ! It’s very-very natural. We have just had the 7th Pay Commission, because of the 7th Pay Commission there’s been a huge increase both in the salaries and in the pensions. Simultaneously, the situation at the current time is not conducive to burdening the freight traffic or the passengers with passenger fare hikes. I think logistics cost has been an area of concern for the nation as a whole. Both Gadkariji and I have been working to try and bring down the logistics cost, collectively, and in conjunction and supporting each other, so that we can become comparable to world standards where people say 8 to 9% is a reasonable cost of the product to be attributed to logistics. India is closer to 14%.

I think when both the Ministries work in tandem and achieve the objectives with which we have set out, we will be actually able to bring down this cost to 8%, along with the benefits we get from the GST regime. Having said that this is going to be a transitional period where we are looking at huge gains coming from efficiency. I will give you a simple example. We are looking at transforming the signaling system of the railways. Currently, we have a 100-year old signaling system. Now, it’s another question. I hope some of these fact checkers also like to check up why for 65 years nobody thought of this, nobody thought of a modern signaling system.

Q: What about bridges sir?

A: You are right absolutely, we have done an audit of all the bridges. In fact, I am taking the help of Mr Gadkari’s department which is very good on the bridge technologies, the new faster construction technologies. The idea is that all these speed restrictions that have plagued the railways for so many years, how do we resolve each one of them. In fact, my last meeting before I came here today was on doubling the freight average speed of the country, currently, it’s at 23.5 kilometers per hour. The freight trains in India run at an average of 23.5 kilometers. Our effort is to make it at least 47, and on the passenger side, to increase the 46 kilometer which is the average speed to about 71-72 kilometers.

Now, that can be transformational in terms of efficiency, in terms of speed of travel, in terms of faster movement of goods and passengers, and obviously, in terms of revenue, so that I could possibly 2 years/2.5 years down the road look at reducing freight rates and encouraging some traffic to move out of Gadkariji’s roads onto the railway system.

Q: Sir, what about private sector participation in development of Indian railways. A lot is being said that there are some stations that you have already leased out to some private companies, train sets can be run by private sector players. How is that entire project taking up?

A: Just one thing, because the targets issue came out, I would like to state that this government has believed in keeping very-very aggressive targets, because we genuinely believe that you have to push the teams for extraordinary performance. Now, in an earlier day and age, one or two percent growth or five percent growth used to be considered a very good growth, MoUs and targets were set at that level and that also was not being achieved. I would like to ask the same money control gentleman that what kind of targets were set earlier and what kind of targets and set now.

For example, in electrification in railways, this year we have set a target of 4000 kms and we are monitoring it by the day. And the same point, जो माननीय नितिन जी ने कहा, what we have completed is 4000, but of that the CRS, the Commissioner of Rail Safety clearances come for about 2700. पर जो भाई साहब ने कहा वह हम 4000 achieve कर देंगे. But that’s how the system works. The CRS is now working to check all those lines that are being completed and they have assured me 800 kilometers they will do next week, and the balance will be done the week after. Some 300 kilometers they are struggling for manpower and stuff like that.

Now that’s possible, imminently doable, but did this country ever imagine doing 4000 kilometers of track electrification in a year and we are gradually going to push them towards 8000 in a year, because we believe the nation’s climate change initiative demands that kind of speed of action. Track renewal – the country has had backlog of track renewal for years and years.

Q: Why, why sir? I mean Harish Rawat, the former Uttarakhand Chief Minister has also walked in. It’s a good time for us to, while we look at Rising India, while we look at the next chapter in India’s growth, can you now in course of your experience, and you now had such a rich experience – power, coal, railways. What do you think was the fundamental problem during the UPA years? Why couldn’t we achieve the kind of targets that you are all trying to achieve?

A: Well, it should not get into a political slugfest but the reality is, in the past, first of all, there was no visionary big picture ideas that were being focused on or that were being targeted – point 1. Point 2 – the leadership was not willing to take bold decisions. And I have always held, the ownership of a company or a corporation of whether it’s a government project or a private project, since you asked me the question on privatization, is really immaterial. It’s vision and leadership that define success.

We have had enough failures in the private sector. We have had more problems in the private sector possibly than in government companies in many sectors. So I think what’s important is vision which was lacking, what’s important is mindset change which was lacking. So, every time in the past you would hear there is a shortage of funds, Mr Gadkari changed the paradigm of thinking. He said funds will never be a constraint, let’s think big. And actually, we are finding in government that as we proceed with very big and bold targets, big and bold vision, money is never a constraint if your intention is right, sincerity of purpose is there. It’s a corruption-free regime, no corruption in the whole system, so everybody gets a free and fair opportunity.

And as regards privatization, small elements are seeing private sector engagement, you know freight terminals, goods sheds getting privatized, a few train lines have come in through private initiative connecting Mundra port, connecting Pipavav port. But, the Indian Railways primarily still remains a public utility. It’s still service oriented. It’s not a profit-oriented organisation. It’s not expected that we look at full user charges, more so, we want to make it a convenience available for the common passengers. For example, we have put up Wi-Fi in about 300 odd stations already; the target is to take Wi-Fi across Indian railways to 8000 stations. Now, we are not charging customers an arm and a leg like a private sector would do, we are looking at it as a service to the people.

Q: So, like let’s say, I see on board a few Shatabdi Express trains now. You started off with video, live streaming of video which is taking place, what’s the possibility let’s say across Rajdhani Express trains or all air conditioned trains at least where may be the upper class of passengers who may be in a position to pay more?

A: First of all, this government focuses first on the poor passengers. That’s another mindset change that you better get used to. Our first focus – so, traditionally, the Rajdhanis and Durontos and Shatabdis were the focus of the railways. इसको ठीक करलो तो क्रिटिसिज्म भी कम होगा, प्रतिक्रिया नहीं आएगी, यह वोकल ऑडियंस है और इस ऑडियंस में वह बैठे  हैं, पर मुझे पूरा विश्वास है कि इस ऑडियंस का दिल धड़कता है उस गरीब आदमी के लिए जो गांव से एक ट्रेन लेकर काम करने आता है या जो यहाँ से गांव जाता है | यह हर एक का दिल और दर्द उनके साथ है |

Q: See Farooq Abdullahji is listening to you very intently, and he is nodding his head, I don’t know if in agreement or disagreement we will find that out in a moment.

A: नहीं फ़ारूक़ जी और हमारा कोई इस विषय में डिसअग्रीमेँट नहीं है | अब वह नेहरू और गाँधी और पटेल जी का क्या रोल था पार्टीशन में उसपर ज़रूर हमारा शायद अलग विषय है, हो सकता है | लेकिन एक ज़रूर कहना चाहूंगा, हम सब यहाँ बैठे हैं, हम सब एयर से भी ट्रेवल करते हैं अच्छी सुविधा हम सबके पास है | लेकिन हम अगर पीछे जाएं इतिहास में अपने अतीत में जाएं तो मुझे पूरा विश्वास है हम सबके भी परिवारों ने कभी न कभी शायद 10 साल पहले, शायद 50 साल पहले, शायद 100 साल पहले, कभी न कभी कोई ट्रेन बोर्ड करी होगी और वह ट्रेन बोर्ड करके हम लाइफ में आगे बढ़े होंगे, शहर आये, कुछ पढ़ाई के लिए बाहर गए, कुछ पढ़-लिखकर बड़े बने और हम सबके जीवन में रेलवे का कोई न कोई अंग, कोई न कोई प्रसंग बहुत महत्वपूर्ण रहा होगा अपने जीवन को बढ़ाने में |

Q: It’s a good thing to do actually, आपका तो डेली ईमेल आता है हम लोगों के इनबॉक्स में, maybe you can ask people to share their stories, their live stories on railways?

A: Yeah, my intention is to bring the charm back and that can only be possible once everybody also engages, ताली तो दो हाथ से बजती है अगर कचरा होता है तो कोई फेंकने वाला है तभी कचरा होता है, अगर खाना अच्छा नहीं है तो कोई चुपचाप से खा लेता है बिना कंप्लेन करे तभी खाना ख़राब होता है | तो मैं समझता हूँ I need more engagement from all your participants.

Q: Yeah, sure. I am just waiting for mike to be given to Dr Farooq Abdullah.

Q: मैंने एक ही सिंपल सवाल करना है, मैंने रेल में सफर किया है कई दफा दिल्ली से जम्मू गया और जम्मू से दिल्ली आया हूँ | ईमानन आपसे कहता हूँ जो आपकी एयर कंडीशन कोचेस हैं वह इतनी गन्दी हैं और जो उसमें वह बिस्तरा देते हैं अगर कोई बीमार नहीं होगा वहां ज़रूर बीमार हो जायेगा | मेहरबानी करके, रेलवे स्टेशन के बारे में मैं नहीं कहूंगा मगर ज़रूर आपसे गुज़ारिश करूँगा कि आप इन सुविधाओं को ज़रा बेहतर कीजिये | अगर आप उनके तकिये देखेंगे ईमानदारी से मैं कहता हूँ  those takiyas should be thrown out of the rail.

Q: No, I am very grateful for this passenger feedback, पर शायद आपका एक्सपीरियंस थोड़ा पुराना होगा, डेटेड होगा, पर अगर अभी का है तो मैं फ़ारूक़ साहब आपसे और आप सभी से अनुरोध करूँगा कि अगर यह चीज़ आप हाईलाइट करते हैं तो हम सबके लिए भी सुविधा होती है उसपर एक्शन लेना और उसको ठीक करना | मैं एक उदाहरण देता हूँ हमने एक नया प्रयोग अभी शुरू किया है आदिल ज़ैनुल भाई की मदद लेकर, क्वालिटी कौंसिल ऑफ़ इंडिया, हमने 100 नौजवानों को, युवा-युवतियों को engage किया है क्वालिटी कौंसिल के माध्यम से कि वह देश की ट्रेनों में घूमें, उनको मैंने कहा है आपका कोई काम नहीं है आप सिर्फ ट्रेन में घूमिये, ट्रेन में क्या सफाई है, ट्रेन में खाना कैसा है, जब स्टेशन आता है तो उतरकर देखो स्टेशन कैसा है, क्या-क्या चीज़ें लैकिंग हैं, क्या-क्या चीज़ें सुधारनी हैं | अब मुझे 100 लोग बिठाने पड़ रहे हैं टिकेट लेकर जो घूमकर मुझे फीडबैक देंगे, लेकिन अगर यहाँ बैठे हुए लोग शायद यहाँ एयरलाइन ट्रैफिक ज़्यादा होगा पर आपके चैनल के माध्यम से अगर आप देश भर में यह जागृति लाएं तो हम एक्शन भी ले सकते हैं | सरकार में आप सब जानते हैं एक्शन लेने के लिए कोई बेसिस चाहिए |

I can’t kick out anybody, I can’t sack anybody. I can’t even sack a contractor कोर्ट में हार जाऊंगा, किसी स्टाफ पर एक्शन लूंगा तो CAT में हार जाऊंगा | तो ठोस सबूत मिलता है तो एक्शन लेकर सुधार भी सुनिश्चित हो सकता है |

Q: No, that’s true. You are one of those Ministers who is very active on social media and I myself once saw when I was travelling on board a train, I tweeted about a food packet which was contaminated. And by the time I got off the train, there was action being taken, so I have no disagreement with you on that.

Q: But Piyush ji you are a veteran political crisis manager I say, what went wrong? I mean Chandrababu Naidu today is leveling some very serious allegations, political in nature. Yes, he is accusing your party, the Prime Minister in particular, of colluding with anti-TDP forces to embarrass him and to dislodge him, what went wrong between Babu and you?

A: देखिये भूपेन्द्र जी, आंध्र प्रदेश का विषय मेरे खयाल से थोड़ा सेंटीमेंट से ज़्यादा जुड़ गया, वास्तविकता छुप गयी उसमें | Reality यह है कि जब 14th Finance Commission ने एक बहुत ही सोच समझकर सुलझा हुआ निर्णय लिया कि जम्मू कश्मीर, हिमाचल, उत्तराखंड, जो हिल स्टेट्स हैं और जो नॉर्थ ईस्ट के स्टेट्स हैं उनको छोड़कर आगे से किसी प्रदेश को Special Category Status न दिया जाये|  उनके किसी की समस्याएं हैं तो उसके लिए केंद्र सरकार मदद करे वह अच्छी बात है अब यह जो AP Reorganisation Act के अलग-अलग प्रावधान थे उस प्रावधान के हिसाब से आर्थिक जो-जो ज़िम्मेदारी केंद्र सरकार की थी शत-प्रतिशत, और मैं इस भरे ऑडियंस में बड़ी ज़िम्मेदारी से कह रहा हूँ और मेरे पास तो पूरी details हैं मैं पढ़कर सुना सकता हूँ, शत-प्रतिशत जो आंध्र प्रदेश के प्रति केंद्र सरकार की ज़िम्मेदारी थी हमने पूरी तरीके से निभायी है| जो-जो पैसे का लाभ उनको Special Category Status से मिलने वाला था उसको सुनिश्चित किया है, उसका रास्ता निकाला है, उसमें लगभग दो वर्ष से उन्होंने प्रोजेक्ट नहीं सबमिट किया वह पैसा ड्रॉ करने के लिए और आज suddenly बोल रहे हैं कि पैसा नहीं आया है |

Q: मतलब काम नहीं हुआ और पैसा लेने का प्रयास था ?

A: काम तो कुछ हुआ ही नहीं है, आप अमरावती जाकर देख लीजिये क्या काम हुआ है, नहीं हुआ है फिर भी 2500 करोड़ रुपये दे चुके हैं | तो मेरे खयाल से हर एक विषय में पूरी तरीके से सुनिश्चित किया कि आंध्रा के साथ कोई भी प्रकार का नुकसान नहीं हो, उनका रेवेन्यू डेफिसिट पूरा करना था एक वर्ष के लिए, पहले 9 महीने का पूरा भी हो गया, कुछ थोड़ा सा गैप है 600-800 करोड़, वित्त मंत्री उसके लिए भी तैयार थे देने के लिए | Centre-State का जो sharing ratio है वह 32 से 42 फाइनेंस कमीशन ने कर दिया वह भी हमने दे दिया, जो पोलावरम वगैरा के लिए पैसा देना था वह भी हमने सुनिश्चित कर दिया | क्योंकि वह external aided projects ला नहीं पा रहे थे दो साल से तो हाल ही में, जनवरी में उन्होंने कहा कि नैबार्ड से हमें दिलवा दीजिये, हमने उसके लिए भी मंज़ूरी दे दी कि अच्छा नैबार्ड से ले लीजिये |

Q: तो आपने सब कुछ कर दिया फिर भी वह नहीं माने?

A: नहीं, समझिये आप बात | अब पैसा ही सिर्फ मांगते रहो और ज़मीन पर काम नहीं अगर दिखे तो उसकी ज़िम्मेदारी तो हमारी नहीं हो सकती है | पैसे का यूटिलाइजेशन सर्टिफिकेट अगर केंद्र सरकार के सिस्टम में चाहिए तो वह तो देना पड़ेगा, ज़रूर लगेगा | तो मैं समझता हूँ दुर्भाग्य से यहाँ पर राजनीति और sentiment has overtaken the reality. That is a sad and very unfortunate thing. I do hope चंद्रबाबू इसपर और गहराई से …

Q: Any possibility of him coming back or is that chapter closed now?

A: Politics is all about possibilities.

Q: All about possibilities? Okay! So that chapter is still not closed, all right. I will take a couple of maybe audience questions before we wrap up. Prasoonji is here or since आप दोनों लोग भी मुंबई से आते हैं, नागपुर से आते हैं तो मैंने सोचा कि why don’t we get Prasoon Joshi and Anuradha Sengupta is also there.





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