Are the winds of change blowing across the country? Every time when a young Union Minister visits our city, Mysuru, this thought gets reinforced. Each one of them is Prime Minister Modi’s acolyte and a potential PM material. The charming, erudite, scholarly, intelligent, down-to-earth Piyush Goyal, Minister of State with Independent Charge for Power, Coal, New and Renewable Energy and Mines, was on his first visit to the city recently. He is also appointed as Karnataka Associate In-charge for the forthcoming Assembly elections.
Star of Mysore Features Editor N. Niranjan Nikam caught up with Goyal in this exclusive interview lasting about 40 minutes, where he spoke about his Ministries at length, BJP’s stress on merit, how to serve the society by being in politics and how proud he is to be a Hindu. Excerpts…
By N. Niranjan Nikam
Star of Mysore (SOM): You are the Minister of State with Independent charge for Power, Coal, New and Renewable Energy and quite recently you have also got the Ministry of Mines. Could all these four be Ministries in themselves? And what is the power scenario in the country?
Piyush Goyal: I am delighted that from a power shortage country, today India can proclaim that 24X7 power can be made available across the length and breadth of the country since we are a power surplus country. We have enough generation capacity to expand our power output even if the demand increases by 50 per cent. We are also rapidly increasing renewable energy; all the stressed and stalled projects have been completed. I am very confident when people from across the world look at India to invest, to work, to live, to visit, one thing they will never have to worry about is they will not get power. One thing you must have noticed that in world ranking, in the ease of doing business, our ranking on the ease of getting electricity has improved from being at 99 to 27.
SOM: What about being in charge of four Ministries?
Piyush Goyal: There is a lot of synergy between these Ministries. Power and Renewable Energy have a lot of synergy between them. Power makes all regulation, it supports New and Renewable Energy’s rapid roll out. Similarly, Coal is required largely for power production; more than 2/3 or 75 per cent is used for power generation. Coal and Mines have a lot of synergy. So the Prime Minister has tried to break the silos between Ministries and with the integration of four Ministries we have been able to serve the people with speed, scale and I hope, skillfully. Synergy breaks the barriers and walls as also silos which have helped us to work together.
SOM: ‘Be honest or resign,’ a video, warning Power Officials of UP went viral. Such warnings have been given by Ministers or even Chief Ministers in the past. What has been the impact since it is already four months now in UP, which is known for corruption?
Piyush Goyal: (Laughs) One of the first decisions that the UP Government led by Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath did was to remove corrupt officials at the top-level. In the first quarter of UP Government run by Yogi Adityanath, the revenue of UP Discoms went up by 28 percent. I don’t think there can be a better certificate than that. And no government has been able to achieve this. Their Power Minister Srikant Sharma and his team have been working doggedly and with a great deal of commitment by trying to reduce cost and serve the people of UP.
Earlier, 24 hours power supply was given to just one district and I don’t have to tell you which it is. It was the district one party was ruling — Saifai. Now almost across the State, they get power. Even small towns get 22 hours power. Farmers are getting uninterrupted power for eight hours, unlike in Karnataka. Even journalists are talking about it. We are cracking down on ‘katia’ (people draw power illegally by hooking a line on power lines) connections;11,000 lakh new connections have been added.
SOM: Energy Efficiency Services (EESL), a Power Ministry enterprise has invited tender for 10,000 electric vehicles. You also plan to sell LED bulbs and energy efficient fans in petrol bunks. Are these new initiatives? And, how much will it help tackle power and escalating petrol prices, which many predict will touch Rs. 100 per litre?
Piyush Goyal: All of these are initiatives that have been talked about or nominally introduced in the past but never taken to this scale and to the doorsteps of the people. The Congress Government before 2014 was procuring 6 lakh bulbs (of 7 watt) a year at Rs. 310 each and with taxes, giving Rs. 100 subsidy and with marketing and distribution cost, selling it at more than Rs. 500. But when I became the Minister, PM Modi told me that I should look at energy efficiency as the fifth pillar of energy generation, because when you save energy you are reducing generation by 2.5 times. He told me to give a major thrust to energy. Now we are able to sell LED bulbs at Rs. 40, that too for a 9 watt bulb with 30 per cent more illumination. Now, there is no subsidy required. People can afford and the pay back is down to within two months.
The previous government was selling 6 lakh bulbs in one year but Modi government is selling 6 lakh bulbs every day! The savings on electricity is Rs. 40,000 crore per year and it will reduce energy consumption by 11,000 crore KW hours. This has also resulted in 80 million tons of carbon dioxide being saved from being released into atmosphere. It is one of the most holistic campaigns to reduce pollution, make the lives of people better and, of course, save money for the consumers.
Similarly, electric vehicles are the futuristic vision. India hardly sells a few 1000 electric vehicles today. We are working on non-subsidy based programme where we can scale it up like LEDs. Our aim is by 2030 all vehicles that are sold in India should be electric vehicles. That will reduce the foreign exchange outgo on petroleum products by over 50 billion US dollars a year. That much potential is there in electric vehicles.
SOM: What about my question on petrol touching Rs. 100 per litre?
Piyush Goyal: Well, my colleague, Minister Dharmendra Pradhan has done some wonderful work by negotiating new contracts and now he is getting United States to supply oil; yesterday, the first shipment of oil from USA has been dispatched. This will help expand the sources of petroleum products for India and reduce the stranglehold that some countries and organisations had on petrol prices. We are hoping that we will be able to keep petrol prices under control as reasonably as possible.
SOM: Politics is in your blood. Your father late Ved Prakash was a Minister in the Vajpayee government. Your mother Chandrakanta Goyal was an MLA three times in Maharashtra. Was it easy for you to enter politics?
Piyush Goyal: (Smiles). Not at all, on the contrary it was very difficult to enter politics. Right from my childhood I was exposed to former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayeeji, to great leaders like Chief of RSS Guru Golwalkar, Balasaheb Deoras, other stalwarts of Jan Sangh like Nanaji Deshmukh, L.K. Advani, who all used to come to Mumbai often and stay with us. I learnt a lot, particularly my early grounding in moral values, my early grooming in ethics when I saw such tall leaders.
In BJP, you have to struggle and work hard to achieve any position. Positions are decided on merit and not on your surname. I started working at a very young age. I became a Member of Parliament (MP) only in 2010, after 25 years of service in the party and that too after my mother, who was an MLA in Maharashtra for three times, retired from politics in 2004, when she turned 65. She said let younger people take over. Many told her that I should contest from the same constituency. Her words were, “Over my dead body.” She told them that I have to work in the party and it will decide my seat. She did not allow me to contest from her constituency.
My father was also a Minister in the Vajpayee government who completed his Rajya Sabha term in 2008 and died of cancer within a few months. Till then I was involved in local Maharashtra activities. Of course, I had worked in national campaigns in Delhi for a couple of years. But I never had any position or national responsibility. Only after my mother retired and my father passed away did I get an opportunity to become an MP.
The PM gave me the position in 2014 when I was made the Minister. That is the strength of BJP where only merit prevails and my surname has no value today.
SOM: You are an all-India second rank holder Chartered Accountant and a second rank holder in Law in Mumbai University. On July 1, 2017, the 68th Chartered Accountants Day coincided with GST roll out. The Prime Minister ticked off the CAs demanding a better role from them. Please comment.
Piyush Goyal: He did not tick off the CAs. He in fact complimented them for the work that they have been doing. He told them, I am fighting against black money; I am trying to eliminate corruption in this country; I am trying to make this country clean, in its economic activity. He appealed them to be a part of this noble mission. Because, after all, anyone involved in black transaction, informal and illegal transactions will certainly have some CA certifying it. He believes that every Chartered Accountant is as patriotic as he is to participate as a friend, as a colleague in this noble mission to rid India of this corruption, informal economy and problem of black money.
The Prime Minister had talked to me about this before the speech. I personally told him that it is very important to give this message. Nikam Saab, I will tell you, for the last 7-8 years I have not practiced, but I ran industry; I was an investment banker. In fact, every session that I attended of CA Associations or Institutes, I have been appealing the 2.5 lakh CAs and 12.5 lakh students to take a pledge that we will not give any bribe, become corrupt or help officers take a bribe; we will not become middlemen of corrupt businessmen. Let us all take a pledge to become this harbingers of transformation of this country. I am confident that my CA colleagues will come up to the PM’s and the nation’s expectations. You know the target — Nishana — was the shell companies and that is what we want to eliminate. After all, if there are shell companies that are now detected, somebody would have audited, seen those accounts.
On that day when the PM addressed the CAs there were 60,000 people including young CA students in the Indira Gandhi Stadium in Delhi. Every time the Prime Minister said that I want to eliminate corruption, the students clapped the most. That is how much they were inspired by the PM’s address.
SOM: As a politician you have been candid in telling that you have provided enough for your family and now you can focus on your job completely. But for most of the people in position, greed and power overcomes everything. How do you fight this?
Piyush Goyal: Many young friends ask me that they want to be in politics. I tell them if you want to change the image of the country then good people must come to politics, get engaged in politics and change India to the New India, the vision of the Prime Minister. You can’t wish away politics. I then tell them to work for a few years and provide sufficiently for the family, so that when they are in politics money does not drive them, but the noble causes. In my own case, I have adequate capital; we declare our income as MPs and as Ministers and it is all there on the website. Before I took the decision to become Minister I had this conversation with my wife and children who gave me complete co-operation and unstinted support. I have provided for their education well in advance. My wife does not crave for material wealth; I am fortunate. God has been extremely kind to me to give such understanding wife and children.
SOM: In a TEDx talk you spoke about the spin-off of Tourism. Mysuru being a tourist centre could benefit enormously. But all efforts to put Mysuru on the world map have not been all that successful. What do you think can be done to promote it?
Piyush Goyal: It is such a beautiful town. I have rarely fallen in love with a city as soon as the plane was landing, as it happened today. It is pristine in its beauty, green, so clean and the people are so warm and affectionate. There is a huge potential in Mysuru. I would have wished Government of Karnataka had done more. This can certainly be promoted as a tourist hub. We in the Centre are committed to promoting tourism. That is the true soft power of India. Along with IT, we should have tourism. The Prime Minister spoke to about 212 young entrepreneurs for two days, where I was also there. They have come up with some good suggestions also on tourism. I hope we will get an opportunity to promote tourism in Karnataka. It seems, the people of Karnataka are very unhappy with this corrupt, inept and inefficient State government. I am confident that we will once again get an opportunity to serve the people of Karnataka and make Mysuru a tourist capital of the country.
SOM: Even you hold an Independent Charge. Do you also report directly to the PM? And what is your experience like?
Piyush Goyal: This is a very collective government. We have broken all the silos between Departments and between Ministries. We talk to each other on the phone; we all work seamlessly as colleagues. Any time I want to meet a senior Minister, may be the Prime Minister, Home Minister, Finance Minister or Surface Transport Minister, they are all just a phone call away. We all find it so easy to interact and engage with one another, share ideas and experiences. Today I met this young girl Megha Kochar, what an impressive work she has done by building a toilet in a school for girls, near the airport, with her first income. What a wonderful outcome of Prime Minister’s Swachh Bharat Mission. I am going to report about this to the PM. This is the kind of team we have at the Centre under the visionary and inspiring leadership of the Prime Minister.
SOM: Karl Marx said, ‘Religion is the opium of the masses.’ You yourself have said that you are very religious. Now, in a pluralistic and secular country like ours, what is your stand?
Piyush Goyal: Secularism does not mean irreligious, it is not against religion. If you see the definition of Secularism, it talks about equal respect for all religions, no discrimination between religions. All are equal. I never discriminate and neither does anybody in BJP or RSS. We believe all religions have their place; it is a personal right to practice one’s religion. I follow all the religious festivals and I pray twice a day if not more and I am very proud about it. Just as I am proud that my Muslim friends do Namaz, just as I am delighted to go to my church in Mumbai, in Don Bosco High School where I completed my schooling. It is one of the most beautiful churches in the country, in Matunga. I am delighted to be a part of this eco-system in this great country where Parsees are respected despite being in a minority, where Jews were welcomed. But I don’t have to be apologetic about my religion. I am proud to be a Hindu. In any case the ideology and the economic philosophy of the sort of the person whom you quoted are consigned to history.
SOM: As a Minister-in-waiting for former US President Barack Obama, what was your experience like?
Piyush Goyal: (Laughs heartily) It was a delightful experience. He is a very charming person, very sensitive to climate change, just like our Prime Minister Modi. He has two young children, little younger than my children. He comes from the same University where both my children are studying. So, we had a lot of notes to exchange.
SOM: Oh, your children come from the same Varsity?
Piyush Goyal: Just like my children, his two children are going to the same college. My son has graduated from Harvard and my daughter is still there and former President Obama is a Graduate of Law School. So we had a lot of things in common. His Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker’s daughter is a class fellow of my son. That became another common topic about our children’s education. We had several areas we could share our thoughts.
There are differences also particularly, as I am promoting energy efficiency under PM’s guidance, whereas I find that in America and in the developed world, energy is being wastefully consumed. So it was a fair mix of conversation which was quite interesting. It was a learning experience and a great one at that to being with Obama.
Soch Badalna Chahiye…
The interview was about to begin in the beautiful surroundings of the renovated VK Function Hall in Nazarbad. Piyush Goyal had just finished addressing the media and walked to the gazebo where three chairs and a table was arranged. An elderly person walked in and told Goyal, “Hamari durbhagya Sirji ki aapko host nahin karsakta (It is our misfortune Sirji that we cannot host you).” Pat came the reply, “Durbhagya kyun hain? Soch badalne ki zaroorat hain. Aap ko bolna chayiein, tumko ek aur baar aana padega,” amidst burst of laughter from the people around.
Before the interview began, he gushed about the place and said, “I have never done a press interaction in a more beautiful setting.” After the interview was over, the Chartered Accountants of Mysuru, who were waiting, immediately gathered around him for a group photograph and after felicitating him with a Mysuru Peta and garland, they made him sit and they all stood behind him. He said, “I am feeling embarrassed. I will stand with you, now you can take a picture.”