Politicians plan for 2024, Modi plans for a superpower India'
Union Jal Shakti minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat discusses energy, Make In India and Modi
Hyderabad: Gajendra Singh Shekhawat, who serves as the union cabinet minister for Jal Shakti in Narendra Modi government, spoke exclusively to Deccan Chronicle on what he described as the ‘Modi method’ of solving mega problem with a cluster of initiatives approach, of the challenges facing the economy and country on the energy front, and the way ahead as envisioned by the Centre.
After nine years, there are lots of questions on what has been achieved?
You must understand our government’s approach to solving complex problems, especially Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s method. Take the example of healthcare. When we came to power in 2014, we realised India was facing a huge shortage of doctors. So he gave a call to ensure there was a medical college in every Lok Sabha constituency, every district.
By 2015, we kickstarted the entire process of creating enough doctors there – but there is a time lag from making a policy, setting a target, giving approvals, finding land, constructing buildings, initiating admissions and for education to begin. This takes a minimum of two to three years. And then five years for the first batch to join and become MBBS. Then another few years of education for specialisation and internship.
We could not wait for 12 years and tell people to wait for a great healthcare system. So our government also immediately approved extra seats in PG for existing medical colleges, over 5,000 seats nationally each year.
But it is not just about doctors, but to review the tertiary public hospitals network at the district level. We sanctioned funds and regularly reviewed the enhancement of infrastructure at these hospitals.
We saw the costs for the implant were high, so to bring down costs, we took an initiative. Overnight with a decision we brought down costs for stents, other implants from Rs 1.5 lakh to Rs 35,000.
Then there was the issue of supply of medicines for poor and common people. We opened the Jan Aushadi stores to supply medicine for the poor, bringing down costs of most medicines by 60 to 80 per cent, thus saving around Rs 24,000 crore for people in purchase of medicines alone. For surgeries and hospitalisations, we brought out the universal insurance scheme, Ayushmaan Bharat.
The entire ecosystem and its deficiencies is understood, and a holistic solution approach is created and put in place. This is transformation development, not different initiatives without synergy or purpose.
Modi ji in fact moved ahead further, to launch Ayush to integrate traditional medical systems into the larger ecosystem. He then focussed in parallel on preventive healthcare, from invention to manufacturing vaccines, to initiatives to address deficiencies in children through a campaign to directly fund ladies during pregnancy to ensure they have access to more nutritious food.
He then turned it into a national movement involving the public a very large-scale from popularising yoga, to encouraging sports and fitness through the Fit India movement. This is how he addressed the entire national health scenario with a holistic approach and a clear eye on the future.
What is the current state of our trying to becoming aatma nirbhar in the energy sector?
We have approached it with the same method of trying to holistically understand the entire context, see the cluster of challenges and opportunities and try to address them through a plethora of initiatives, schemes, policies and projects.
The energy sector is foundational to the economy. If the economy has to grow, investments have to come, jobs have to be created, we have to make energy available. It has to be green, it has to cut our import levels, save foreign exchange, reduce and eliminate trade deficit and negative balance of trade.
Electric power is only 17 per cent of the total energy consumed. For the electricity sector, we had straightaway decided to achieve 40 per cent green power as it is the future. We bet on renewables in a big way. We achieved our targets in advance, way before the deadline and have no reset them as goalposts have shifted.
The Solar alliance was a big initiative. But the problem of renewables is production matching demand. When solar works best, during the middle of the day, consumption is low. Evenings and at night, demand peaks and we are unable to produce with solar. We are now building integrated projects, where we use solar in the day to take water up, let it fall at night to produce hydel, and use this in a zero carbon footprint cycle.
Given that vehicles are a big part of energy consumption where we depend on hydrocarbons – which are bad both for the environment and our economy – we started work on shifting to Electric Vehicles, and Hydrogen fuel. Think of Rs 3.75 lakh crore size of the economy, and import bill for hydrocarbons, we wish to reduce and eliminate it. If we grow from current levels to $5 trillion, with the same energy plan, we will face a huge crisis.
We started not only manufacturing lithium ion batteries but also Electric Vehicles. Today, India has surpassed even Japan, one of the great nations that revolutionised automobile manufacturing, in the EV sector. We are the third biggest EV maker on earth, behind only the USA and China. But while lithium will work for smaller and personal vehicles, commercial vehicles will need to be powered by hydrogen.
But while addressing this issue, and trying to transform India from using petrol, diesel and gas to EVs and powering our industry with renewables, we also saw a Rs 2 lakh crore and urea deficit. We are now producing green ammonia so we make fertilizer and urea.
A big question in the economy is about jobs?
The Make in India is therefore about powering our economy, cutting imports, creating jobs and being future-ready. As the Indian economy grows, and we cut our trade deficit, our currency would have greater acceptance and power, we will be the most sought after economy in the world for investments. We are not going to let or chase a static growth like some economies. The transformative development would mean creating jobs.
But the jobs will have to also transform, hence we are investing in changing education through the New Education Policy, the Start-up India and Mudra loans scheme is creating entrepreneurs and Skill India is giving people better skills for a changing economy.
Jobs will also come with new infrastructure building and becoming a manufacturing base, where we have so far started making mobile phones, semiconductor sector expansion, defence manufacturing, aircraft parts manufacturing and craft maintenance. All of these are creating jobs. We are the fastest-growing large economy in the world by design, not luck.
How central is the role of political leadership to this?
When most politicians are talking about and thinking of the 2024 elections, Modi ji is preparing plans for a superpower India and how to transform us into a fully developed nation in the coming decade. A bold leadership, willing to take risks, have a vision and pursue it without fear of elections or because of lure for power is the biggest reason for why India is developing so rapidly and with integration of ideas since 2014.
We have resolved the banking sector problems. We have integrated several taxes into one GST, which is why tax collections have grown from Rs 70,000 crore to now over Rs 1.84 lakh crore. It would not have been possible without visionary leadership.