Nitin Gadkari on why 3 C's of politics won't work

Nitin Gadkari on why 3 C's of politics won't work

Union Minister for Road Transport & Highways, Shipping and Water Resources, River Development & Ganga Rejuvenation Nitin Gadkari.

As India hurtles towards the Lok Sabha elections next month, it's time to sit back and absorb the drama of Indian politics, to be entertained by it, but also to understand and analyse the complex issues at play. With this in mind, DH brings you its comprehensive political coverage under the umbrella of DH Political Theatre

An important part of our coverage is interviews with key leaders from across the political spectrum. Today we present Union Minister for Road Transport & Highways, Shipping and Water Resources, River Development & Ganga Rejuvenation Nitin Gadkari in conversation with Sitaraman Shankar, editor of Deccan Herald.



Hello and welcome to another edition of Political Theatre from Deccan Herald & Prajavani. Our guest today is Mr Nitin Gadkari, Union Minister Road Transport & Highways, Shipping and Water Resources, River Development & Ganga Rejuvenation. He is basically the BJP's man for anything that moves on earth and water, with the additional responsibility of restoring the holiest of our rivers. Before his ministerial stint, Gadkari was best known for building the Mumbai-Pune Expressway, along with many flyovers in Mumbai, and his tenure as the BJP President. Welcome, Mr Gadkari, and thank you very much for speaking to us.

Thank You.

Just one month to go for elections and it is a great time meeting you. I just wanted to start off by asking you what are the top three achievements you personally will showcase to voters when you go to seek their votes.

First of all, my achievement is to do with Ganga. Actually, a-viral (free-flowing) and nirmal (clear) Ganga, this is the important mission for our government. It is the dream of Prime Minister. And in this Kumbha, the people who visited Prayagraj, they are satisfied. The water was clean and the flow was very good.

So, we are already working on 286 projects costing Rs 26,000 crores and there are many projects related with the sewage water which was going to Ganga. We are now having a new technology by which we are making recycling of water. In the liquid waste management, we have already selected the world's best technology. Even in Kanpur, Allahabad, Varanasi, these are the main cities where the problems are there.

At the same time, 40 rivers and tributaries related with Ganga, Yamuna and other rivers, we are also working on that. And, only 30% work we have completed, but the result is very good. I am confident that by next March Ganga will be 100% clean and at the same time, a-viral e-flow will be there and which is a very important and historical thing for the government. For the first time in the history of India, we are fulfilling the dream of the people of India. So, this is one of the good achievements.

Second thing is, for the first time we have an express highway network. Because, when I was a minister in Maharashtra, I got to construct the Mumbai-Pune Express Highway. But, that was the first Express Highway constructed by the state government. But, as a federal government, for the first time we are working on 14 express highways and out of which the ring-road of Delhi is very important. It is going to reduce pollution – air pollution in Delhi – by 29%, 30%. So, we have completed that express highway. We are now in the process of, we will complete that project in a month – the Delhi-Meerut express highway. Presently, it takes four-and-a-half hours for coming from Meerut to Delhi. It will now be only 45 minutes. So, starting of work on the express highway, we have started the work on Dwarka express highway, then we have started the work on Mumbai-Delhi express highway, that is the first express highway where the cost of the express highway is Rs one lakh crore. It is a totally green express highway that will go to the backward area, tribal area of Maharashtra, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, then Rajasthan and Haryana, where we have already saved Rs 16,000 crore on land acquisition and it can be a growth engine for the country, particularly for the backward areas, becoming a model of socio-economic transformation. So, we have already started the work on that highway. So, the starting of express highway is important.

The third important thing is that now India is becoming the world number 1 highway network of the world. And, that is the reason that we have increased the national highway length from 93,000 km to two lakh km, out of which 40,000 km we have completed.

So this is really, once I have taken charge, it had come to two km per day at the end of next March it will be 35 km per day. So, this is a really great achievement which is really going to change the total infrastructure scenario of the country.

Sir, as you know, we are based in Karnataka. So I believe, you have a few projects in Karnataka as well. Cauvery, of course, comes to mind. Can you tell us what is going on there?

Actually, the water problem in the country is not the problem of all India. There are some pockets, but basically, water scarcity is a problem related with Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Orissa. These are the states where we are facing the problem. The idea was taking water from the Himalayan basin to the tail end of Tamil Nadu. That project is named as Ganga-Cauvery. But, what we have taken a decision, in place of taking water from Ganga, there is water from Godavari is going to the sea. So whatever water, the surplus water available in the different basin to the tail end of this where which is going to the sea, whether it is possible for us to take it to the area where it is needed. So, on the basis of that, we constructing a big project in Andhra Pradesh called Polavaram, and the backwater of Polavaram – 1100 tmc of water is going to the sea from Godavari and the dispute between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu is for 45tmc. So, now we have taken a decision, we have prepared a DPR. We are taking the back water of Godavari from Polavaram, taking that water to Krishna, Krishna's water to Pennar and Pennar to Cauvery – tail end of Tamil Nadu. So this is really a dream project for me, we are working on that project and this project is going to resolve the water dispute between Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.

At the same time, we have successfully executed some projects where in Kandla port, we are making a hydro project – that is a power project, a hybrid project, that is of solar and wind. So, the power cost comes to Rs 2.40. So, we are planning to make a project of 2000 MW and the power ministry has already given its permission to use this power in different part of ports all over India.

So, now the power is available at less than Rs 3 per unit. Presently, in Chennai, the desalination plant – their power rate is Rs 6 per unit. So, the idea is now we are taking a pilot project at Tuticorin, Paradeep and Kandla where we are making desalination of water and the water cost will be less than the capital cost at which we are making the expenditure for the big projects. So, this is a new, innovative idea by which we can take the water of the sea, particularly related with Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, make the desalination of water and that water can be used for drinking water purpose and after that recycling of water that can be used for agriculture, irrigation. This is also my dream project where we can resolve the water problem of Tamil Nadu and particularly Karnataka.


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So, what is the timeline and the cost for these two projects – Godavari and desalination?

The project cost for this Godavari backwater project is more than Rs 40,000 crore. We have to go to the World Bank and this is a national project. The idea is 90% will be given by central government and 10% from the state government. Now, we have already prepared the DPR and regarding all permissions, we are preparing the papers for that. But, for this project, we need finance from World Bank, ADB like agencies and we need cabinet approval. So, we are now sending it to cabinet. But, it is difficult now because the model code of conduct is there. But after elections, definitely, we will give priority for this. It will resolve the water dispute between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.

So, when you come back after winning the elections?

100% I am confident we will come and we will resolve the issue.

This is a good time to switch track to the political questions we have. What are the top three planks the BJP is going to run on? What do you think is the main thrust of the campaign?

Actually, our government under the leadership of Prime Minister Modi ji is very much committed for progress and development. We need, because as far as development is concerned – three important sectors are there. The manufacturing sector where 22-24% of GDP is coming from, then the agriculture sector – 8-12% is the GDP from agriculture and agro-processing industry, and from the services sector – 52-54 per cent.

So, now this is the time for the country that we have to increase our exports and the most important thing is that we have to reduce the logistics. 49 per cent goods transport is on water. And that is the reason that the logistics cost is 8%. In European countries, it is 8% and in India, it is 18 per cent. The first revolutionary decision taken by our government is water transport. So, we have already taken a decision to convert 111 rivers into water ways, out of which 10 projects we have already started.

We are going to complete the project of Ganga waterways. So, these are the great achievements.

At the same time, we are increasing cruise tourism. We have already started RO-RO services, taking the automobile sector from car from Tamil Nadu through Cochin, it comes to Mumbai and from Mumbai, we can take the cars manufactured in Pune area going to Chennai and Chennai area car manufacturer taking their car to Kandla and Kandla to Punjab, Haryana and Delhi. So, this type of RO-RO water transport is a priority.

We are giving now permission for sea plane, Catamaran, hovercrafts. So, water transport for goods and passengers as also for cruise tourism is very important. And this is the most important thing our government is encouraging.

But if you take a broader view of BJP's electoral strategy, you have mentioned, of course, things from your ministry, but overall, what do you think you are going to hit on?

Politics for progress and development. You see, the problem is unemployment, poverty. These are the problems. If you want to resolve unemployment, we need more investment. We have to increase the growth rate of agriculture and at the same time, we have to create more employment potential. That is the reason we have to increase our exports. And now, India is the fastest growing economy. So, the approach of development is very important. Caste, cash and criminal – these are the three important C's of politics. But, these are not going to be helpful for the country. Progress and development and eradication of poverty is the mission for the party. The people who are really socially, economically, educationally backward, we have to formulate the economic policy for that. How the youth will get the employment and how we can eradicate the poverty. That economic approach and vision for development is the basic emphasis for the party and the government. We have worked very hard on that. The results we are now seeing in all sectors. The results are very good. That is the need of the country. All of us have a feeling for that.  At the same time, the best judges are the people. This is the time for the people of the country to decide their political issues on the basis of issues of development. That is exactly what our politics and democracy needs.

You spoke of the economy, but actually things have slowed a bit and there has been some criticism of the government on demonetisation and the implementation of the GST. How will you answer this?

See, GST is a proposal supported by all political parties. In the modern economic approach, all over in the world, GST is appreciated by everybody. So, the first time when we implemented there were some starting troubles. But, today we have taken a lot of decisions which are giving relief to the people. Now, GST is no more a problem.

Particularly, notebandi is becoming a issue where people have a lot of reservation. But, it is an important thing that our party manifesto had committed for destroying Number 2 economy. We have taken a decision, the results are also good.

But that has not happened. Number 2 economy is still running?

No, No. The way in which tax income is increasing – of GST and income tax – it clearly indicates that it is a benefit because of that (noteban).

So, you are saying demonetisation was a success?

100% it was a success and it is really helpful for our economy. That is the reason our revenue has increased.

So, you are willing to go to voters and talk about demonetisation and ...?

100%, we will convince them, because the basic thing is red tapism, corruption, we need a transparent policy, and now with GST, income tax, every time we are improving the law. By transparency and using e-governance by which our interest is to reduce corruption and at the same time giving relief to the people. So, we have succeeded, but starting, at the time anything new thing you start, there are some teething troubles. So, now I feel that people are getting good response and they are happy and we resolve all the issue where they are facing the problem.

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What about jobs? I think that everybody acknowledges it is a problem. Not just now, it has been a problem for a while. What will you do if and when you come back for a second term. How will you fix this?

Actually, some of the sectors like the highways sector, when the road construction has increased, definitely we are going to increase employment potential. I am giving you the example of construction machinery industries. The industry's turnover – those who are manufacturing equipment for construction, road construction – they have increased by 80%. Even Bangalore, when I visited, there was a big exhibition for that and they all giving me the information that their turnover is just becoming twice, because road construction has increased. Ultimately, it is going to create jobs for the youth of that area.

At the same time, some of the sector we need more concentration. Agriculture is really a challenging sector, because sugar surplus, wheat surplus, rice surplus, pulses surplus. We have to change the crop pattern. For the reason, in Karnataka also, we are now giving priority for using bio-fuel, alternative fuel – ethanol, methanol, bio-diesel, bio-CNG, electric. Presently, our import of crude oil is Rs seven lakh crores. So, the idea of our government is – it is a long-term policy – that diversification of agriculture towards energy and power sector. And for the first time, we are encouraging ethanol as a fuel, by which if we can save Rs two lakh crore of import and this Rs two lakh crore goes to agriculture economy, it will be a great achievement for the government. And we are trying for that. At the same time, we are using non-edible oil seeds oil for aviation fuel. Jatropha oil, first time successfully we implemented the experiment taking Spicejet flight from Dehradun to Delhi using 25% bio-aviation fuel. Now, ATC, Boeing, then Airbus, Bombardier companies have cleared that you can use 100% bio-aviation fuel. It can be a great potential in Karnataka. By using this Ratanjot, Moha, Sal, Karanja and Toli, all these non-edible oils, by using biotechnology, we can increase the productivity and oil percentage, and that oil can be used as bio-aviation fuel where we have a import of Rs 30,000 crore, in place of importing this oil, if our farmers can take the initiative and if we can give them appropriate technology 100% we are going to save this imports and at the same time creating more jobs and helpful to particular farmers by and large.

Sir, you come from a part of the country that in the past, at least, and to some extent now, has seen a distressing level of farmers’ suicides. And the BJP's plan of doubling farmers' income by 2022 is beginning to look very unlikely. When people go to vote one month from today how do you think they are going to react? And how are you going to get their vote?

Actually, we have already increased the MSP and government is constantly supporting. And prices which are getting to the farmers are reasonably good. We are completing whatever are the promises made by the government. But at the same time we need to change the crop pattern. Now we are in global economy. The rate of sugar is not decided in India, it is decided in Brazil. The sugar rate is Rs 20 per kg in Brazil and we are paying farmers for sugar cane by considering the rate of Rs 34 per kg.

So, now by changing crop pattern and diversification of agriculture towards energy and power sector, I am going to lay emphasis on it, then we can find out the alternative of petrol and diesel from agriculture. Now, in my area we are making bio-CNG from rice straw, we are increasing the production of ethanol. Now, first generation of ethanol from molasses, second generation ethanol from sugar cane juice, third from corn, and ethanol from biomass. So, this is the time by which, I feel that we will create jobs in agriculture at the same time we will reduce our imports and create more jobs and potential in the rural and agriculture sector.  This is the first time our government has taken note. It will take some time to give you satisfactory results.

So, the 2022 deadline is not happening, right?

Sir, the process is already moving. Already we have declared the policy taking second generation ethanol from biomass. The rate is Rs 59 per litre, and ethanol from molasses is Rs 50. Now, we have taken decision to directly make ethanol from sugarcane juice. You don't need to make sugar from that, because we are sugar surplus. So, it will take some time. But the policy, the way in which we are implementing in due course of time, I am confident we will have the positive results.

Sir, so to finally settle this question, doubling of farmer income is not going to happen by 2022 and it is going to take much longer?

No, No. Already we are depositing money in the bank account of the farmers. They are getting the reasonable price for that. And as far as the promise given by the government, we are implementing that policy.

Okay, just to shift track a bit, how do you think Pulwama and Balakot have changed the dynamics of this election?

I feel that we should not politicise this issue. Because these are the issues which are related with our national security and I feel that national security is above all. So, it is not a political agenda. It is the duty of every government to protect the people of this country. And Pakistan (we have) defeated three times and that is the reason they have started a proxy war with India by using terrorist and terrorist organisation, And we have after this incident, given really a very, very good answer and I feel that in the international level all support is with us now. Pakistan is isolated. We should think in national interest. We should not politicise and make political statement. Otherwise, it is not good for the country. Because, the people of Pakistan, those who are talking, making charges down the same line the opposition party is talking, I think it is bad. It is not good in national interest.

Particularly, my feeling is we do not want to mix up this issue for political benefits

But, to be fair sir, it's the BJP and your party president who has been talking about it. It has been politicised by the ruling party. Do you not think so?

There is criticism from the opposition party. It is obvious for the ruling party to give an answer to that. That is the reason. But, at the preliminary level, we are very clear that we do not want to politicise the issue in the national interest. I will appeal to all political parties that don't politicise it. It is totally a different thing. It is a national interest programme. So, we should not politicise that.

Sir, in fact, there is a general fear in the media that any questioning of what happened in Balakot is being seen as anti-national. Do you agree with that characterisation? Is it good to ask questions or..?

Our party never says it is anti-national. It is the freedom of speech and freedom of writing with the press is there. We are a democratic country. And suppose anyone writes it, it is his view point. So, nothing is going to stop him from writing that.

So, sir the question that I am sure you have been asked several times, and you know what is coming: You have dismissed any suggestion that you are interested in the PM role if the BJP falls short of majority?

Sections of the media, every time projects me. I have already cleared my role about it. So, I don't need to tell more for you. But, I feel that national interest is more important and I am, as a follower of my party, I have very much commitment for my ideology and for the nation and I am serving in the role of a minister. I feel politics is an instrument of socio-economic reform. I am working for the country and as far as the political situation is concerned, we are confident we are going to win this election and Narendra Modi ji will be the next prime minister.

So, obviously, this is not a job you are seeking?

Not at all. Never, never have I said it and never I have any attitude or like that. Already, I have cleared all these things many times.

So, do you think the Congress is trying to play you against the Prime Minister and Mr Shah by praising you saying you are doing a great job?

I don't have any comments on it. But my idea and my conviction is very clear and I clear this issue.

That's very clear sir. Thank you. It's been a pleasure speaking to you and all the best for the elections.

Thank you very much. Namaskar.

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