Exclusive: India must learn the art of living with coronavirus, says Nitin Gadkari, claims MSME sector can create 5 cr additional jobs
Nitin Gadkari, in conversation with Firstost, says, India must evolve to adapt the art of living with the coronavirus
Nitin Gadkari, Union minister of road transport and highways and micro, small and medium enterprises is known as a doer.
The highways, built by NHAI are major employment generators. But as the traffic remains absent from those wide four-lane roads due to the nationwide lockdown, focus shifts to the plight of migrant workers who are forced to take the journey to their homes on foot.
In such a scenario, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s thrust on MSME sector to protect jobs and small businesses, places premium on Gadkari’s role. He has to play a critical role in nation’s bid to revive the economy and take steps towards the building of an Atmanirbhar Bharat (self-reliant India).
In the times of pandemic, he is someone who has quickly adapted to the latest technology to continue his ministerial responsibilities. He interacts with stakeholders throughout the country by holding several video conferences, taking their feedback and addressing their issues.
He firmly believes that India has the capacity and the grit to not just fight the current pandemic, but also to take the country to the next level in the times to come. He says, "at this stage we need to evolve art of living with the coronavirus ."
In an exclusive conversation with Firstpost, he spoke at length on the prevailing situation, challenges and opportunities ahead. Here are edited excerpts from an interview conducted over Skype.
You made your mark as a top performer with the speed and scale with which you undertook construction of national highways. The highways were taken as sign of new India, faster lane comfortable drive but unfortunately you must have seen same highways these days are in news for thousands of people migrant workers walking on foot for hundreds of kilometers. Some numbing heart touching accidents of these migrants workers have taken place. How would you explain this dichotomy?
This is very unfortunate. I have directed NHAI to make provision for food and water for migrant workers at all toll booths. Then we had people taking a ride over trucks. This was very unfortunate. Let me tell you the reasons of it. I contacted districts, interacting with about 60 crore people. The feed which I received gave a sense that the virus has caused a great deal of fear among people. Because of this fear people have developed anxiety. They think that before the worse happens, they should get back to their native place and face the situation as it may develop out there. This fear was not only among people in lower strata of society but also among relatively well-off sections of people. We had not expected that people would start walking for long distances, begin moving in auto-rickshaw from Mumbai to places in Bihar and UP. I saw disturbing visual of people inside a mixer-truck.
How do you find a solution of this fear anxiety?
Under these circumstances it is very important that we instill a sense of self confidence among people. Positivity and self confidence are two most important things. This can’t be done by the government alone, various sections of society has to come forward and media has an important role in this. This was my appeal to all those with whom I interacted. I used to assure them, Hum Honge Kamyab…Kosish Karne wale ki Kahbi haar nahi hoti. The latter is a pick from Atal Bihari Vajpayee poem. I give them examples including that of Tenzing Sherpa and Richard Nixon.
You had given directive to NHAI to provide food and water to migrant workers. Could the NHAI have done more?
There are multiple dimensions to the issue. The government provided buses at some stages and points but then the apprehension of spread of infection was there. At this stage we need to evolve the art of living with coronavirus . I have spoken a lot about it, the hygiene and social distancing norms. Railways have started a new system of booking. This is the first experience of its kind. Nobody had seen a crisis of this kind.
NHAI is a big employer. Has highway construction work began to its capacity?
The work has started. We have resumed work on around 90 percent of projects. We have built labour camps, following social distancing and other COVID-19 norms. If work begins and people get employment, they would tend to stay where they are, and won't to their native place which they had left in search of work opportunities.
We come to the issues relating to your other ministry MSME, which is now in headlines. It is being looked up a sector which could potentially put Indian economy back on the track and even take it forward. For the first time the Centre is coming out with a focused plan. Experts are talking about it. Do you think the MSMEs can actually deliver the way it has been hyped?
See, the first thing is that MSMEs contribute 29 percent to the GDP. 48 percent of the total exports of our country is from MSMEs. So far MSMEs have created 11 crore jobs and it is my endeavor that the sector should create five crore additional jobs in next five years. Our idea is to increase the export contribution of this sector from the current 48 percent to 60 percent, and the contribution to GDP should go up to 50 percent from the existing 29 percent.
Isn’t that very ambitious?
I have taken an angle that 115 aspirants districts, which are socially, educationally and economically backward need to develop at faster pace. We need to decongest cities. Build industrial clusters along the highways. Build smart cities and smart villages there. We need to provide employment locally. The villages which have gram panchayats and 10,000 people live there, can have industries. That industry could convert that village into a smart village, providing houses, school, health centre, and employment to the locals – village development clusters would be developed.
That sounds even more ambitious
I believe you originally belong to Bihar. Let me tell you a formula for Bihar. The crude oil import bill is very high. Our ethanol economy has gone to Rs 20,000 crore, it can be increased five folds to one lakh crore. Ethanol is made from sugarcane, molasses. Now I have asked them to make it from food grains and corn. We have food grain storage for next three years. We don’t have more storage capacity. At some places it is rotting due to rain water and so on. If the rotten food grain is auctioned it will go up to Rs 8-9. Punjab Food Corporation has fixed base price as Rs 6.5 for rice.
One ton rice can produce 400 liters of ethanol. I am proposing to build 500 rice and corn based distilleries. The investment made in the industry would be in next four-five years. The ethanol produced would be bought by petroleum ministry. I want to put those 500 distilleries in Bihar, UP, Haryana, Punjab, states where rice is produced.
A comprehensive plan for agro industries is being prepared. Similarly there are plans for fisheries, honey and cattle farming. Nothing is waste, even toilet water is not waste. You can make use of it and also make money if you have the vision, technology and determination to do better.
PM has given a call to make Atmanirbhar Bharat. What does the term `Atmanirbhar’ really means for nation and how long it could take to achieve?
We have inherited twin thought of Swadeshi and Swablamban. Atmanirbhar Bharat means decreasing reliance on imports and increasing exports through up-gradation of technology. There is a difference between modernisation and westernization. We have to modernize technology, have to upgrade, export have to increased and decimate bhay, bhookh, atank aur bhrastachar (fear, hunger, terror and corruption) and give employment to people. We have to build an India which is prosperous, developed, and an economic powerhouse. The current crisis could be a blessing in disguise. There are always some people who create problems in opportunities and there are some people who create opportunities in problems.
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