October 5, 2017

Speaking at WEF Press Conference, in New Delhi

……forum once more to India, to engage with Indian business, Indian government and I have always valued this platform a lot, because it does give us a two-way flavour, gives us a chance to talk about what we plan to do and also to hear some voices, and understand what’s happening around the globe.

The morning session was certainly very-very interesting. In that, different voices – business, social sector; we also had a person who is a very eminent personality from Bollywood, all talking about the strengths of India in terms of its resilience, in terms of the change in attitude as dear Malvika said, in terms of the confidence that Indian business has in the future of India and its growth story.

Certainly, when you make very transformational changes, there will be some turbulence along the way; there will be some readjustments along the way. And, that transitional period throws up its own challenges, but also its own opportunities. So, we look at this transition period as providing a huge opportunity to all of India, particularly, Indian business to move into a more formal economy, to change the mindset of doing business that has prevailed for decades in this country. And the best part of it is that the youth of India is engaging very beautifully when it comes to this changing mindset, to this changing approach to the future of India.

The youth does not want the stereotypes of the past. The youth does not want an economy where the formal and the informal co-exist. The youth certainly doesn’t like corruption. They want an honest economy, an economy that is caring, that really wants to do good for society. And, the good part about India is that when we talk about doing good, particularly, good for the lesser privileged, we don’t talk about only India, we talk about the world.

The very basic DNA of Indian culture and tradition has been that the world is one family, and when we care for our fellow human being, it’s not necessarily a fellow Indian, it’s a fellow human being from across the world. I will just give you a couple of small thoughts to ponder over why I say this. Look at the UN peacekeeping forces. If you put all the peacekeeping forces that have been mobilized in the last 60-70 years, you will find the Indian contribution to US peacekeeping forces has been the highest.

The International Solar Alliance – India has gained hugely from our thrust towards renewable energy, and we care for the environment. We are really a concerned nation as should every responsible global citizen about climate change. But when we care for it, we also care for other countries who should benefit from that. So, we launched the International Solar Alliance along with France. We already have 40 countries signed up, 11 have ratified. By the end of the year, we will have a multi-lateral international agency providing a platform to encourage renewable energy across the world, particularly, in countries like Africa and Asia, which are going to find it difficult to be able to get the benefits of modern technology, financing.

So, our engagement, be it to counter terrorism, be to counter climate change, be it for the basic welfare of fellow human beings, is global. And I do believe that has been the Indian ethos, and that’s been something Prime Minister Modi and his government has passionately worked towards in the last 3-3.5 years. Thereby, I think in some sense, creating a lot of acceptability for India across the world.

Q: Minister, I want to come back to you with one of the points that Malvika mentioned, and I could imagine that it’s also on your agenda – investment and R&D. Give us a brief insight into what we can expect from India in that area?

A: You know, at the outset, I must compliment Malvika that you are really brilliant. You make all of us proud. And I truly pray and wish for the best for you and all the young boys and girls of the country. I think you are the ones who are going to really give us strength to be able to do so much more. All the very best.

And, I am, in fact, even more proud that you spoke about R&D. It’s something, which is so important. It’s actually something, which will define the future of India. In this day and age of innovation, in this day and age where the whole world is changing, I think it’s new thoughts, new developments, innovation, which is going to determine the fate of mankind and India can’t be left far behind.

I know on more than one occasions, I have been confronted with this question – what is the budget you have for R&D? And, I remember very early on in one of my first few interactions with my team, this question came up, ‘what is your budget for R&D?’ I said, I have no budget.

And everybody was aghast, there was media in the room, everybody was aghast. I said budget is made when there is a limitation. Intrinsically, a budget limits you from spending. For a thing like R&D, there should be no budget, it should be unlimited.

And, I think that is the strength, which some of the developed countries have today. If at all somebody was to ask what differentiates the United States of America or many countries in Europe like Sweden or even Finland, or Switzerland for that matter – the fact that they have innovated, they have produced Nobel Prize winners, the fact that they are encouraging new thoughts, new ideas. And, they celebrate failure. They don’t take failure as a stigma, because unless you fail, unless you make mistakes you are not going to learn and unless you learn you are not going to succeed.

I think it’s that mindset, and as she said that attitude in our thinking that we need to put into every child of India. Today, India can proudly proclaim that we have sent satellites to space, probably, at a lower cost than any other country. Our mission to Mars was at nearly 1/10th the price of any other satellite going there. India launched 104 satellites at one point of time, simultaneously.

It’s something that makes each one of us proud. But we can’t rest on our laurels. India has the unique ability, I think, with its demographic dividend, with this wonderful youth wanting to engage, wanting to come up with new ideas, to lead the world in the years to come. And, I think we only need to create that enabling environment to empower them. After all, all our young boys and girls go to NASA and do such wonderful work there. Possibly, it’s on us, the responsibility rests on us to create that similar enabling environment that they can flourish and their minds can wander and come up with brilliant ideas in India.

We are trying to look at fiscal benefits. We have looked at some tax breaks on research and development. We are looking at integrating different laboratories, upgrading laboratories in the country. But, yes, we have a long way to go. But, I think today, after Malvika’s talk, it’s a little bit of a wake-up call for me too in my own areas of work to see what more work we can do on innovation.

Q: Thank you very much. I have many-many questions, but we also have the members of the media in the room. So, if I could (Inaudible) who has questions, we have a microphone here.

A: May I add one thing, since.. When we talk of innovation, I have a concern about technologies and patents, which I would love the World Economic Forum to really deliberate upon, possibly even deliberate upon it in Davos as it comes closer.

We have this issue about technologies related to climate change, newer technologies, you have HFC-free air-conditioning, for example. You have newer technologies, which bring efficient renewable energy sources. You will have storage technologies coming up in the future, electric vehicles. All of these are ways by which we can combat climate change.

Sadly, we have confused business and profits with this huge challenge of climate change. I personally am of the view that there have to be certain outcomes on which patents or technologies should be on open access, available on open access for the world to leverage, bring down the cost and make it freely available, because the challenges are near and immediately before us.

I mean, just take an example, if there are terrorists outside this room. Are we first going to be sitting and engaging on technology costs and you are giving arms and ammunition at a certain price, or are we going to fight that challenge immediately. And, climate change is no less a challenge than terrorism. And, with the kind of costs that we are loading on climate change and its mitigation, we are actually making it difficult for many countries to be able to address this challenge.

So, I personally believe we should invest much more in R&D, particularly, on issues around climate change and that investment should be global in nature. It should be investment which gives technology for the world to use. I mean I had a couple of very bad examples, when I tried to talk to some of the best universities of the world. I said I am willing to fund all the research that goes in to make clean coal technologies or manage the carbon in coal, for example. But we were not able to come to terms on the issue of patents. I wanted that whatever comes out of that research, and I am funding that research for you, should be available openly for the whole world, so that it can help us fight this problem of climate change. But, we are not able to get around this mindset of profit and mindset of technology control.

Q: Thank you Minister. That’s also an important message to the scientific community, academic community here, definitely. Let’s see if any of the journalists in the room have found the courage to ask a question. Yes, we have a lady in the first row, could you state your name and the organisation for the sake of our online audience as well.

Q: Hi, good afternoon. I am Priyamada from the Print, my question is to you Piyush sir. Sir, even today, as we have seen, there is a lot of discussion about technology threatening the jobs that we have in India. And, there is a fear that with technology taking over, a lot of jobs will be lost. Sir, on that, do you think we have the capacity and the buffer to actually help out those who will need to move to another skill, adapt to these jobs that are coming in?

A: Technology never causes job losses. Technology provides you new opportunities to provide a better quality of life at more affordable prices. And, as people start saving money, their demands, their requirements keep increasing, so it only opens up new avenues for jobs. It just shifts the job from maybe, let’s take power for example, I used to earlier look after power.

Now, gone are the days where we will have 4 GW or 2 GW large power plants producing electricity, that plant may have actually provided jobs to 5000 people. Instead of that, an equivalent amount of energy will be produced in the new age of renewable energy, distributed energy in maybe a 100 institutions, or 100 organisations. And that will be the technological shift, and that shift will not reduce jobs. It will, in fact, enhance jobs. You will need 10 times the number of people to produce the same amount of clean energy than it would have taken to produce carbon-based energy.

So, I think in every respect, technology will make life more comfortable, more affordable. And as comfort and affordability comes in, there will be requirements for fresh investments in newer and newer areas. Let’s say, you take the bullet train, for example. If you bring in a modern technology, we will make travel safe, we will make travel more comfortable, we will bring jobs in India, we will make newer products in India through the new technology. And, as that happens, a person reaches his destination in lesser amount of time, his productive hours will allow him to create more growth, more value addition for the nation.

So, I think the country’s mindset or attitude has to change towards progress becoming a part of our life, not anti-progress becoming the defining feature of Indian society. So, we can’t have a situation that the last train that was introduced in India was the Rajdhani in 1969 and no new technological innovation after that in 50 years.

We can’t have a situation where we can say that, no, first, like in the west, everybody now has a vehicle, by and large. So, they will have to replace all those vehicles with new electric vehicles as it progresses. India has the opportunity to leapfrog, so that we can start with electric vehicles for 90% of our people who don’t own a vehicle as yet.

On LEDs, we didn’t wait for America or Europe to shift to LEDs, we have led the world in LEDs – literally, LED the world in LEDs. And, now the world wants to clone the Indian example. Indian LEDs are being sold in London, so I think the time has come for India to accept leadership position, to take pole position when it comes to leading the global effort on a variety of things – growth, climate change, terrorism.

Sushma Swaraj, the honourable External Affairs Minister, gave a powerful address, which I think stirred people across the world when she spoke about terrorism in the UN last month. So, India’s own ability to lead the world is now coming to centre stage.

Q: Thank you very much. That is a good closing remark, considering that the time has already progressed. Thank you very much for being here, thank you for watching and a very special warm welcome.

A: Thank you.

Subscribe to Newsletter