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‘Expectations from Modi regime have increased’

In a free-wheeling conversation with BW’s Suman K. Jha, the Union Minister for Road Transport & Highways, Shipping and Water Resources, River Development & Ganga Rejuvenation talks about the government’s priorities as well as other pressing issues

In popular perception, as also in BW Businessworld surveys, Nitin Gadkari is rated as the most efficient and effective minister in the Narendra Modi cabinet. In a free-wheeling conversation with BW’s Suman K. Jha, the Union Minister for  Road Transport & Highways, Shipping and Water Resources, River Development & Ganga Rejuvenation talks about the government’s priorities as well as other pressing issues.

Excerpts:

 
Is the Narendra Modi government already in election mode?
Every politician thinks about the next election. We are always in election mode — some people may express it, some may not. At the same time, developmental work is very important. In fact, I would never mix politics with development.

How will you beat anti-incumbency if the entire Opposition comes together?
An alliance of the Opposition parties is not on the basis of any ideology. It’s politics of convenience. I feel the Indian people understand what’s in the interest of the country and what’s not. The people have seen through the Opposition’s design.

PM Modi promised acche din. Do you think that has been delivered?
One hundred per cent!  Take our flagship schemes. The Ujjwala Yojna is about letting the poor experience the convenience of LPG stoves. More than eight crore gas cylinders have been delivered. In the Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojna, 32 crore bank accounts have been opened — the earlier figure was only three crore.

The new entrants into the system are getting debit cards. The Bhagyashri Yojna takes power to the farthest corner of the country. The recently launched health insurance scheme, which provides coverage up to Rs 5 lakh, is revolutionary and will benefit the poor. All our schemes are geared to empowering the poor. Our increased MSPs will immensely help farmers. There is one hundred per cent satisfaction. However, as the people see a government working so hard, their expectations also increase manifold — this is also a reality.

The sector which has seen the most visible change during the tenure of this government is part of your ministry — the highways and road construction sector. How do you evaluate this change?
When I took charge of the ministry, road construction was 2 km per day, now it’s 28 km per day (going by the March-end figures). By next March, it will be more than 40 km per day. There is a revolutionary change. When I took charge of the ministry, there were 403 projects involving an amount of Rs 3,85,000 crore (pending). Our government has taken 22 cabinet decisions and we have resolved almost all the problems, including land acquisition, environmental issues, coordination with state governments, etc. It’s a great achievement for us.

Will the Ganga be cleaned by 2019? 
One hundred per cent! We have already taken up more than 250 projects. The Clean Ganga Mission is going on in full steam in Uttarakhand. In Kanpur we have taken up seven projects, of which five have begun. In Varanasi we have seven projects, five have started. In Patna eight projects of 11 have started. Similarly, in Jharkhand, two projects have started. We have also selected 40 tributaries of the Ganga. We will ensure that not a single drop of sewage or polluted water gets into the Ganga. Next year 70 per cent to 80 per cent of the Ganga will be clean and we will do it completely soon thereafter.

What do you think is the future of inter-linking of rivers?
We have 31 projects lined up, of which we want to start six before the end of this year. I am trying my best to get the approval of the states.

Recently, a SpiceJet aircraft flew powered by biofuel. Biofuel is very close to your heart. What is the future of biofuel in India’s economy?
With agriculture in crisis, the government has adopted the policy of diversification, with priority being given to ethanol / biofuels. This is going to change the entire agriculture landscape. Factories for bioethanol will be opened. Bioethanol can be used in autorickshaws, and other vehicles. We have tried it in Nagpur.

It can be used in aviation as well. A flight from Amsterdam to Los Angeles is powered by biofuel.
We have requested the petroleum ministry to formulate a policy. With a cheaper, non-polluting fuel, the aviation sector will be revolutionised. For the last 15 years, biofuels have been my passion. This will empower tribals and generate employment.

You said a few months ago that the auto industry has to convert to e-vehicles by 2030. Then it was said that there is no such deadline. Please give us clarity on the issue of e-vehicles.
You don’t have to link it with the number of days. Your monthly and yearly fuel expenditure on petrol vehicles is many times over your expenditure on e-vehicles. So, naturally people will turn to e-vehicles.

Is there a deadline for the industry? 
You don’t need it, but within two years you will see how the picture changes.

But there is no infrastructure in terms of charging stations etc?
It is everywhere — it’s there in Nagpur, and elsewhere. We are setting up more charging stations. Even in Delhi, there are charging stations in the NITI Aayog building.

We have a one-nation one-tax system with the implementation of the GST. Do you think we should have a system where one doesn’t have to pay toll on highways?
No, if you want good services you can’t avoid it. Governments don’t always have that much money. Now we are making the Mumbai-Delhi expressway. The Mumbai-Delhi distance will be covered in 12 hours. So, it’s going to save more fuel. So, if you want services, you have to pay for them. It is ultimately a benefit.

How do you look at national affairs?
I think this government is development-oriented. Our policy is more towards employment creation. We are concerned about issues like how to encourage ‘Make in India, Made in India’. From defence to infrastructure, we are now allowing new technology in India and at the same time, we are insisting that they transfer their technology to Indians. Our country is now changing; that is the reason innovation, technology and research are encouraged by our government everywhere.
 We believe in turning waste into wealth. We believe in the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan. This is what I would call a socio-economic transformation. India is changing and we are laying the foundation for a New India — which is the dream of our prime minister.

Do you still consider demonetisation a success, considering that 99.3 per cent of the currency notes are back?
I think that it is definitely going to help the people by and large. If you were to pick just one indicator, then black money had to be stopped for the economy to grow. We have stopped black economy.

You talked about employment. Are you happy with the employment figures?

We would like to concentrate more on agriculture and agro-processing industries. We have to address the migration from agrarian India to urban India. We have to create more employment in agriculture — this is the reason we are planning more cold storages. We are spending more money on river connectivity. That is the reason why for the first time in the history of India, the government is concentrating more on the rural, tribal, and agriculture sector.
   
Do you agree that jobless growth is a concern?
Not at all. Our ministry will create two crore jobs. When there is an investment of Rs 1,000 crore, there will be direct and indirect employment of a lakh people. Today, investments in the road sector will cross Rs 7 lakh crore. Shipping and ports will see Rs 3 lakh crore of investment. So the way in which the government is moving is creating jobs.

But another factor is important. Our population is rising at a rapid pace. There is no synchronisation between the population and employment. Somewhere we have to control the population too.

How do you look at the arrest of five Left-leaning activists recently?
You should not politicise it. Unless there is concrete evidence with the police, they won’t arrest anybody. We have to protect the national interest. We should take strict action against those who are encouraging anti-national activity.

There is a perception that the NDA’s coalition management is poor …
Not at all. We are trying our level best to maintain good relations with everybody. We believe in the federal character of the Constitution. We want to have good relationships with the state governments and the regional parties. But there are some limitations. As far as development is concerned, our policy is to do justice to all the states, no matter which party they belong to.

In Maharashtra, do  you think the Shiv Sena will contest the next election with you? 
I expect that, because ideologically we are on the same side. But then, I don’t know the situation there because I’m in Delhi now. The chief minister and the party president  will decide that. I’ll respect their decision.

How much freedom does PM Modi give his ministers?

Modiji gives freedom to everybody. This is a biased charge against him (that he doesn’t allow ministers their freedom). But he is very serious about work, cost, time-bound (projects) and he is very strict about his time. In a sense he is giving an opportunity to everybody.

In cabinet meetings you are known to speak much more than your cabinet colleagues …
What I feel in the interest of the country, in the interest of the people, in the interest of the government I express. This is not against anybody. Even though I am a politician, I am more a socio-economic person. Politics is a game of socio-economic transformation. Our politics is not politics, it is socio-economic work and work of transformation; it’s not only power politics.


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