Times Network India Economic Conclave 2021 –Piyush Goyal, Railways Minister, says that India’s resilience can be seen in every walk of life and going forward, India will be a solid pillar on which world economic revival and growth will happen. Edited excerpts:
Navika Kumar: In June last year, you said that the govt was keeping a close watch on Chinese investments. Are you continuing the same or has the disengagement process also meant a reversal of our stand on investments from China?
Piyush Goyal: I don’t think that the two things were linked in any way directly. The effort was to make sure that desirable investment comes into India, where money can be very clearly identified. It was to be fully aware of the source of money coming in the country, the kind of companies that are investing since some of the investments were also associated to military activity or ownership, I think it was in the strategic interest of India to know exactly where the money comes from.
When you are dealing with opaque economies, it is very important to be careful and to keep a watchful eye. However, if you are dealing with very transparent financial markets, like those in Europe, UK or in the US, Canada, Australia, the systems themselves are so robust and transparent that you need not worry about them.
Navika Kumar: Has India been able to reap the advantage of the growing wariness of the world vis-à-vis China. Was India being seen as an alternative destination to China by the world?
Piyush Goyal: I think we should move beyond the narrative of becoming an alternative to another country. We should look at the positive narrative that we are trying to set of being the primary partner of corporations, businesses and countries around the world. India, given its democracy, rule of law and multilateral engagement is looked at, as a trusted partner and almost all supply chains today are looking at countries which are resilient, countries which are honest in their businesses and dealings, where the rule of law prevails so that they have honest system of doing business.
The significant reforms that India has undertaken in the last year particularly, and in the last few years are clearly helping poise India as the primary focus of investments from around the world. The current aatmanirbhar bharat programme adds a lot more to that narrative, particularly the fact that for the first time, India is trying to prepare domestic industry in terms of quality, productivity, cost efficiency competitiveness. So, we believe that on our own merits, on the merits of the capabilities of our young generation, skills that India possess, natural resources, I think it is the merit of India that will make us not a counterpoint to some other country but the primary destination that businesses and countries will look to engage with.
Navika Kumar: How is it that a country like Bangladesh–has China as its largest trading partner, and not India, when you say that India has great relationship with countries that it shares borders with?
Piyush Goyal: Well, clearly Prime Minister Modi has had a continuous engagement and outreach with all our neighbours. If you can recall, in the very first swearing-in ceremony in 2014, Prime Minister Modi had invited all the heads of state of SAARC countries to participate in the ceremony. It was a big message given out and ever since then we have been working relentlessly to build up stronger relations with all our neighbouring countries. I think the effort that was required to develop more competitiveness brings more value to the products and services that we can offer to our neighbours, the process has been ongoing and it has helped us expand our trade with countries like Bangladesh and I am confident, that going forward, we will be in a position to overtake China in their engagement with Bangladesh.
Navika Kumar: How are we going to end this entire year in terms of FDI and has the pandemic had any impact on it? How are we looking at the next fiscal as far as FDI is concerned?
Piyush Goyal: For FDI, it will be record year despite Covid and the fact that all international statistics suggest that foreign investments across the world are going to significantly fall in current months, in fact in 2020 it fell significantly from previous levels. India was amongst the rare countries which saw growth in FDI in fiscal year 2021. India provides a very good investment destination, a large market of 135 crore Indians aspiring for a better quality of life and an enabling environment in which investors are enjoying both good returns on their investment, large market and thus also helping India in its development objectives therefore, in terms of FDI, I have absolutely no doubt it will be a record year.
I would like to share one other data point which will be heartening to note; in the Indian Railways, we have lost out significantly on passenger traffic due to Covid, but in terms of freight, which is a very important element in judging the economic revival, you will be delighted to note that since September 2020- Feb 2021, for the last six months, we have seen the highest loading in the history of Indian Railways, every month from September to February. After March, we will definitely be exceeding last year’s loading in terms of freight.
Navika Kumar: Is that a by-product of the high petroleum prices and somehow suddenly as if with a magic wand come to a standstill and then begin to decline during elections?
Piyush Goyal: The reality is the rise in petrol or diesel prices is a very recent phenomenon. I am talking about the growth which started picking up from September, so clearly there is no linkage between the two.
Navika Kumar: Are you saying that politics is no longer your agenda as far as economics is concerned or is economics always a result of the politics?
Piyush Goyal: If I recall correctly, I have said this before that there always was a notion in India that good economics does not make for good politics. I think Prime Minister Narendra Modi who, as you are all aware, is today India’s longest serving leader in a high constitutional position in terms of being chief minister and prime minister for over 19 years. For all those years, he has consistently proven that good economics makes for good politics also. The people of India are smart, the people of India understand what is good for them, they see the intention of the leader, honesty of purpose, see his commitment, see his hard work to make India once again regain that lost glory and therefore good economics with a good intention will certainly make for good politics and we have no doubt that many decisions which may seem difficult to implement initially, which may face a lot of resistance in the initial months or years, will ultimately appeal to the people when they realise the good that they can get out of our decisions.