My Dear Brothers and Sisters of Guwahati who have gathered here in large numbers
Today is an important event in the history of railways. One more of the Indian states are going to be connected through rail network. Today, a new route from Mendipathar in Meghalaya to Guwahati in Assam gets connected by rail. Also there is yet another occasion for the railways as the foundation for a new rail route from Bhairabi to Sairang in Mizoram will be laid. So both these projects where one rail route is being opened up and foundation for another is being laid presents a unique occasion.
There are those of us who believe in Vaastu though I must confess that I do not know much about it. But if I were to believe what the experts say then the North East corner of the house should be well kept. It should be clean and its sanctity should be maintained at all times. If this is done the house will forever prosper. Well, I cannot verify these claims but what I do know is that if we are able to take care of the North East India, the ‘Ishan’ corner of our homeland , then the entire India will prosper.
So if we want India to prosper, the progress of the North East will need to be fast tracked. The first step in this direction will be the development of infrastructure. Those who are futuristic and have a great vision always start with the development of infrastructure. Once infrastructure is developed then the people themselves take development forward.
Many of you must have heard about South Korea. It is a small country with a population of about 5-6 crores. It is along the sea coast. It was a very poor country. We talk about the poverty in India but think of a country poorer than India. But the rulers there thought of building a highway at par with international standards right in the middle of the country. This became a hugely controversial decision. People were angry that they had no food, the children had no access to education, they had no homes to live yet their ruler was thinking of spending hundreds of crores of on construction of a road. But their ruler was a man of grit and determination. He went ahead with his plans and built the road despite the criticism. And that one road changed the face of the entire nation.
A few years back we too hosted the Commonwealth Games. We are a large country but what did we do? Whatever happened in Delhi, the negative publicity and the disgrace that followed is known to one and all. That same small country of South Korea was able to hold Olympics in their country about 12-15 years back and host a worldwide audience. That nation prospered and poverty was eradicated. And how did they achieve that, by just one road – that opened the doors of prosperity for them.
The American President Kennedy said, it is not wealth that creates roads but it is the roads that lead to the creation of wealth. In the plans for development, infrastructure occupies a significant place. If the North East has to develop and play an important role in the development of India, then infrastructure development should be a priority. It is my firm belief that these 8 North Eastern states, our Ashta Lakshmi, (eight goddesses of wealth) have the potential of bringing in prosperity for the entire nation. If these eight states are connected to the Nation’s infrastructure which includes roads, rail and all other types of connectivity, if we are successful in doing so which I am sure we will then there will be no looking back. There is a new higher middle class which takes family vacations once or twice each year. They are always scouting for new destinations. With better connectivity North East will become the heaven which every tourist desires. The beautiful landscapes, the dense jungles and above all the warmth of the people here will make it the most sought after destination and I am sure that people from all over India will be thronging the place.
And with this thought of developing the North East, our new government that has been recently formed, in its first budget itself allocated a sum of Rs. 28,000 crores for the development of rail network in the region. I have a firm belief that once this network is laid my people will themselves take this region to new unprecedented heights of progress and development. In the changing world scenario, it is believed that this century belongs to Asia. And if this is a century of Asia then have we made any preparations? There is an emphasis on Look East policy. We believe that if this century belongs to Asia then we are definitely going to make the most of it. And how do we intend to achieve it? Not just by following Look East but by following Look East Act East policy. And we are now moving form just Look East to Act East policy. It is our effort that North East gets connected by road and rail to Myanmar and other East Asian countries. If this is achieved, this region will become the centre of trade and commerce. This region will hold the potential for redefining progress. And then, the youth of North East will not have to leave their homeland endowed with natural wealth and go elsewhere to big cities in search of livelihood.
Times are changing and so we have to move forward with new concept of infrastructural development. The infrastructure too needs to be with ethos of next generation. In the past building rail, road, ports and airports was perceived by the people a lot was done. But now the world is changing. Now highways are required as are i-ways. Information ways, i-ways. There is no place for a digital divide. North East should be an integral part of the Digital India dream. It should have both i-ways network and connectivity. The facilities should be such that whatever one is able to achieve sitting in Delhi same should be available to a person living in the difficult terrains of the North East.
The world is changing. Why shouldn’t there be gas grid? Why shouldn’t there be access to 24 hours of fresh water supply? Why shouldn’t there be electricity supply round the clock? Why shouldn’t there be an optical fibre network? We have to develop infrastructure keeping the new and changing times in mind. This concept of next generation infrastructure development for a Modern India should be conducted at a fast pace and should be actualized as soon as possible. The children of North East are educated in English. If there is proper optical fibre coverage and smooth connectivity then the youth of North East can do the same job work from home in their own village as is being done in Hyderabad and Bangalore. They do not need to go to Delhi and Bombay for call centre jobs. This can happen in North East itself. This world here can change hence I am taking a special interest in the development of the North East.
A few days back I had visited Myanmar. I had discussions with the heads of state regarding improved connectivity, improved trade and greater utilization of the local human resource. Dear brothers and sisters, this rail connectivity is not only about passengers commuting from one place to another. It is a medium that connects us, gives us pace and speed and also provides us strength. The Indian railways have the potential to become the backbone of all economic activities. But instead of considering it as the energetic force of economic development we have made it completely insignificant. Nobody from the parliament or the nation ever pays attention to the discussions of the railway budget.
The moment Railway Minister starts speaking, the statements that are greeted with applause are the ones related to increase in number of coaches or extension of some route or upgradation of some station.
We have divided railways in such small parts. We should not be satisfied if a coach is added and applaud it or feel happy if a new route is opened. We will not be satisfied with these petty gains. We have to both expand railways and also modernize it. We are aiming at both horizontal and vertical expansion of the railways. By horizontal expansion I mean expanding its reach to every nook and corner of the country. By vertical expansion I mean the upgradation of services which involves technology upgradation, speed enhancement to save time and enhancement of facilities. It will be our endeavour to see that railways truly become an engine facilitating the economic growth of the nation in true sense.
I have complete faith that under the dynamic leadership of our new Rail Minister, Mr. Suresh Prabhu railway will witness many fold progress in comparison to the progress made in the past 100 years. For the first time in the country’s history we have made a decision that of 100 % foreign direct investment. We are looking at 100% foreign investment in the railways. People will come, invest money, create moderns trains, create modern rail lines, modern signaling system will be implemented , modern ticketing system will be put in place – the entire railway system will be modernised.
In a country of 125 million everyone has been a passenger some or the other time. Some people travel once a year and some people travel many times in the same day but the underlying fact is that everyone travels. So you can imagine the large commercial market that exists. We can also strive towards making eco friendly and environment friendly railways. Thus we can play an important role in the fight against global warming arising out of mass transportation.
There are many facets which we want to involve in the creation of new systems using the railways. The entire functioning of the railways involves expertise, dedicated technology and continuous technology upgradation and for this human resources are required. Currently the railways advertise for vacancies and the people apply for jobs. Those who qualify for the interviews are subsequently trained for the services. We have thought of a new version which I am sure the new generation will definitely like. I have suggested establishing Railway University in four corners of the country. It will have all the courses and also courses dedicated to the functioning of railways. Thus on passing out, the youth will immediately find an employment opportunity with the railways.
Human resource development along with technology upgradation, improvement in speed and management, improvement in facilities and delivery of services - this is our agenda. Our railway stations which exist right in the heart of big cities extend for miles. Land today is a major premium. But our railway stations continue to be the same as they were a hundred years back. Same chairs and benches to sit, same services to the passengers. But can’t this all be changed? We have asked for the railway stations to be privatised. The trains keep running below and above them five star , seven star hotels, motels or malls can be erected. The sky above the train is open so utilize it for income generation and enhance the services delivered at the railway stations- this is what I have explained to them.
Railways have taken a call for the modernisation of some railway platforms. I hold the view that railway platform should be better than the airports. Because railway platform is used by the poorest of poor, the common man as well as a labourer hence the services at the railway platform have to change. You will see that within no time I will create 10 -12 model stations. Once this is attained, then the entire country will follow and our work will gain momentum.
Brothers and sisters, we have to bring about a dramatic change in the railways. Our endeavour should be to be the best in the world and for that whatever new technology is required we will bring it in.
By connecting the North East, this Ashta Lakshmi of India by rail we intend to make this region the most prosperous in India. We are working in that direction. I congratulate the railway officials and give them my best wishes. I congratulate the Rail ministry and the new Rail minister who will take this forward at a great speed. I congratulate the people of Meghalaya and Mizoram. I thank the governor and Chief Minister from all my heart. Let us all work to take our nation to new heights and our idea of progress should entail development for all, no region should be left behind. Let us move forward with the notion that development touches one and all, is inclusive and all encompassing, is fulfilling for everyone and extends everywhere. In taking this development forward, I thank everybody for their contribution. I express my gratitude to Shri Tarun ji.
(The original speech was in Hindi, this is the English rendering. Original speech remains the authoritative version)
My Dear Brothers and Sisters of Guwahati who have gathered here in large numbers
Excellency, President of the General Assembly,
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I thank the President of the General Assembly for organising this High-Level Dialogue.
Land is the fundamental building block for supporting all lives and livelihoods. And, all of us understand that the web of life functions as an inter-connected system. Sadly, land degradation affects over two-thirds of the world today. If left unchecked, it will erode the very foundations of our societies, economies, food security, health, safety and quality of life. Therefore, we have to reduce the tremendous pressure on land and its resources. Clearly, a lot of work lies ahead of us. But we can do it. We can do it together.
In India, we have always given importance to land and considered the sacred Earth as our mother. India has taken the lead to highlight land degradation issues at international forums. The Delhi Declaration of 2019 called for better access and stewardship over land, and emphasised gender-sensitive transformative projects. In India, over the last 10 years, around 3 million hectares of forest cover has been added. This has enhanced the combined forest cover to almost one-fourth of the country's total area.
We are on track to achieve our national commitment of Land degradation neutrality. We are also working towards restoring 26 million hectares of degraded land by 2030. This would contribute to India's commitment to achieve an additional carbon sink of 2.5 to 3 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent.
We believe that restoration of land can start a virtuous cycle of good soil health, increased land productivity, food security and improved livelihoods. In many parts of India, we have taken up some novel approaches. To give just one example, the Banni region in Rann of Kutch in Gujarat suffers from highly degraded land and receives very little rainfall. In that region, land restoration is done by developing grasslands, which helps in achieving land degradation neutrality. It also supports pastoral activities and livelihood by promoting animal husbandry. In the same spirit, we need to devise effective strategies for land restoration while promoting indigenous techniques.
Land degradation poses a special challenge to the developing world. In the spirit of South-South cooperation, India is assisting fellow developing countries to develop land restoration strategies. A Centre of Excellence is being set up in India to promote a scientific approach towards land degradation issues.
It is mankind's collective responsibility to reverse the damage to land caused by human activity. It is our sacred duty to leave a healthy planet for our future generations. For their sake and ours, I extend my best wishes for productive deliberations at this High-Level Dialogue.
Thank you very much.