This edition of the Express Adda, held at Tote on the Turf, Mahalaxmi, Mumbai, saw Union Minister for Road Transport, Highways and Shipping Nitin Gadkari in conversation with Vandita Mishra, National Opinion Editor, The Indian Express. Gadkari spoke about nationalism, the drought in Maharashtra, the Sagar Mala Project, PPP in road construction and the structure of the BJP.
On highway projects
I am very blunt, clear and never give any false promises. Earlier this year, I declared that we will go for a target of 30 km per day. As of now, on May 26, 2016, we are going to complete two years, but today we have 20 km per day. Probably, by May 26, we will do 24 km-25 km per day. I don’t know what will happen, but my expectation is 25 km per day. The most important thing is that we have already finalised the contract for Rs 1,50,000 lakh crore till now.
On May 16, 2016, we will probably complete the target of Rs 2 lakh crore.
We have already signed the contract for 18,000 km, for shipping and port work, modernisation and mechanisation of ports, port-rail connectivity and other things. We will complete between Rs 60,000 crore and Rs 80,000 crore of contract work.
EPC over PPP
Actually, one thing is very clear, the prime investors in PPP (Public Private Partnership) of road construction, their position is not very good. It is bad not because of the contractors but because of the policies of the UPA government. That is one of the reasons no one is ready to invest and even the banks are not ready to finance them. So I never call it a mala fide default, it is a bona fide default. The problem is with the banks. When I took charge, there were 403 projects that were stalled. The cost was Rs 3,85,000 crore. Today, I have only 11 projects at a cost of Rs 20,000 crore. The bankers are happy now. My target is to go for 100 hybrid projects, costing Rs 1,80,000 lakh to Rs 2,00,000 crore. And because of what I am doing, whatever people may call it, I am not interested in foreign investment.
My first priority is to encourage Indian investors, Indian contractors, Indian technology and if they join with foreign investors, I don’t have a problem. I feel the government should give first priority and chance to domestic investors, contractors and technology.
On Sagar Mala
First of all, I don’t have any problem with funds. The bankers are here and I openly say that it is possible for them to make an investment of more than Rs 10 lakh crore. I don’t need any money from any bank. I will show you, give you my financial model, because people in Mumbai know that when I was the minister, we just took Rs 5 crore from the government of Maharashtra and raised Rs 4,000 crore from the capital market, and completed work worth Rs 8,500 crore in 1996-97. So money is not the problem. Land acquisition is not the problem. Forest and environment clearance is not the problem. My problem is with the system and the need for fast track decision-making process. That is very important, there are a lot of obstacles — we have to go to different departments, take their approvals. Somewhere, we are trying to improve that system, and I am trying my level best to improve the system in my department. There are some problems but I am confident that in due course of time we will solve them.
Drought in Maharashtra
Maharashtra’s agriculture growth rate before the new government took over was negative and now it is somewhere between three and four per cent. Maharashtra’s irrigation percentage is 18.5 per cent and Jharkhand’s is only 5.6 per cent. Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh are making check dams. Gujarat has taken a good decision because of Narmada, so their irrigation is now 34 per cent and Madhya Pradesh is 32 per cent. Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh solved their problems but Maharashtra never seriously thought in that direction. In Telangana, the irrigation budget is Rs 25,000 crore but in Maharashtra, the irrigation budget is Rs 7,000 crore, and Telangana is one-third of Maharashtra.
To tackle the drought effectively, we have to take decisions for contraction of check dams. We have to make greater investments in water conservation projects. We also have to promote our inland waterways as a means of transport. Through modern technology we can maintain water draft up to three metres, which would help in waterways.
BJP and nationalism
I have had the experience of going to jail and being subjected to lathi charge. So, we have been in the opposition party and are used to agitation. Now the thing is, it will take some time for our character as a ruling party to develop. I read one Hindi paper, one English paper and listen to the news once while exercising. I’m not at all tense, let whoever write what they want, say whatever they want and do whatever they want. It’s not my concern and I don’t listen or read or give a damn.
There have been no mistakes regarding sedition charges against Kanhaiya Kumar. The journalists and others from Jawaharlal Nehru University will say we have planted poisonous trees even if we plant golden ones. These are leftists who have an allergy to ‘nationalism’, the RSS, the BJP and a hatred towards Hindutva. These people have no shame and they don’t understand how an RSS man like Narendra Modi became the country’s Prime Minister.
On Bharat Mata Ki Jai
If ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai’ is not said, then will ‘Pakistan Ki Jai’ be chanted? Tell me what is to be said in this country? If there is a cricket match and India wins, we will go around with our flag. Even I used to buy those tickets and when India beat West Indies, I used to get really entertained. That is natural. Why is saying ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai’ such a big concern? When there are some people who yell India’s destruction — ‘Hindustan ki barbadi’ — and all that, do you like it? See, I respect you and I love this country. The ones who talk about the destruction of the country must be the ones influencing us. Is this democracy? That in our country, we talk of our own country’s destruction? There is one thing for sure, if someone doesn’t want to say ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’, they don’t have to. We won’t force anyone. But we won’t talk of the destruction of the country and be okay with it.
Stint as BJP president
As party president, I had my own way of working. I have both good and bad habits. When I am entrusted with a responsibility, I do it. When Amit Shah calls me, I go. This is a democratic party. It is not a ‘pita-putr’ or ‘ma-beta’ party. The example should be taken in a lighter vein. There are so many stakeholders here and some 25 people have to be consulted before a decision is arrived at. I would meet people at 2 am. I forget that I am a minister. I tell my security guards also to go home after I am done with the day’s affairs.
I believe that our party is the party of workers and corporators. They are our biggest strength. I have never publicised myself, put posters of people or put garlands around people’s necks. No one comes to the airport to welcome me. However, corporators, who have worked in all situations, are the ones because of whom this party has become this big and that is our biggest strength. We should never forget them and we should respect them. Today, a few of them are tired. Not all of them became governors, not all of them got into the Rajya Sabha. So, I believe taking care of these people is also important for the party’s survival.