Public transport, clean fuel are the future: Nitin Gadkari
There is no alternative to public transport and clean fuel technology for the future, Union surface transport, shipping and water resources minister, Nitin Gadkari, stressed at an interaction with HT editors and reporters on Friday.
While clarifying that he was not looking at coercive measures such as congestion charge or state deadlines to the auto industry to reduce the number of vehicles on the roads, Gadkari made it clear the roadmap for the country included only indigenous, clean, import substitutes for fuel, electric vehicles and a wide range of public transport systems — from skybuses to water ways and ropeways.
“What we need is indigenous, import substitute, cost effective and pollution free fuel.. If they (auto manufacturers) want to make cars they can make vehicles that are powered by clean fuel. There are many modes of public transport, which they can invest in. I urge them to get into innovation, entrepreneurship, research and technology. But, no I am not giving any deadlines. Too much commotion after my last statement,’’ said Gadkari.
The Union minister said that Mumbai similarly required water transport, electric transport and metro to decongest its clogged roads. “I am disheartened that water transport has still not taken off in the city surrounded by sea on three sides.,.I am going to tell the Chief Minister, if they can’t do it. Let me implement water transport, here.’’
Excerpts from the interaction:
Q. Recently you said that you want to completely stop the production of diesel and petrol car and switch to electric cars. The automobile industry is rattled by it. So what is the deadline to implement it?
A. I said petrol, diesel cars have to be reduced. What we need are indigenous import substitutes; cost effective and pollution free fuel. For example, in Nagpur, I have started 200 electric taxis with charging stations. Petrol at Rs80 and diesel at Rs60 is equivalent to electricity worth Rs10. Our country has coal and electricity in surplus. So is the fuel import worth Rs 7 lakh crore in the interest of the nation? On top of it there is pollution. So I said make electric cars. There are ropeways, cable cars. Recently in Philippines I saw a skybus carrying around 150 people. I am making a ropeway between Sewri and Elephanta.
If industry wants to make cars they can make vehicles that are powered by clean fuel. In Nagpur, 55 buses run on bio-ethanol. Ethanol is made from molasses. I am of the opinion that they should make cars that run on such fuels. Apart from that there are lithium-ion battery operated vehicles. There are Indian companies making electric bikes and e-rickshaws. There are electric highways in Sweden where trucks operate on electricity like how trains run in Mumbai. I urge them to get into innovation, entrepreneurship, research and technology. A litre of diesel costs Rs60, same amount of methanol costs Rs22. What I want to say is that there are cheaper and environmentally friendly ways to adopt for transportation. Sewage water can be used to generate bio-CNG. Our priority and focus is on alternative fuel and electric vehicles.
Q. Is there a deadline for this?
A. No, there is no deadline. Some countries have given deadlines. There was a huge commotion after my recent statement, now if I give a deadline they will start again.
Q. What about the supporting infrastructure for electric vehicle—charging stations etc?
A. See, first the building is constructed, then there is parking, then people come, then restaurants are set up. So gradually all such infrastructure will fall in place. I have made 20 charging stations in Nagpur and I am making more. All parking lots can make space for charging stations. We can install charging points on electric poles too.
Q: Batteries of electric cars are expensive and have to be changed every 3-4 years. They take 6-7 hours to charge. How is all this feasible?
A: From the time we started talking about electric cars a year back, the costs have gone down by 40%. Once the volume increases, the prices will come down. For example, when solar power was introduced in Gujarat, the cost was Rs 16.50 per unit, now it has reduced to Rs 2.56 per unit. In America, there are beautiful Tesla cars that have good speed, all petrol banks have charging stations. So, charging is not a big problem. When electric cars start, charging stations will also begin. It is a case of demand and supply.
Q: The Maharashtra government had opposed the e-bike proposals.
A: I don’t know why they say that. E-auto rickshaws have started all over the country. Don’t start it in cities like Mumbai, Pune or Thane but it can be started in smaller villages. E-autos are also cheaper in comparison to other rickshaws. In terms of pollution also, it is beneficial. Initiating this is only going to help poor people. They should not oppose it. I will request them to support it.
Q. What do you think is the real challenge to the Save Ganga plan?
A. Well, there are people who are saying that Ganga should be cleaned, then there are some NGOs who move court against it, and ultimately there is no work done on ground.
After I took over this responsibility, I realized there are around 3,500 to 4,000 villages that let polluted water into the Ganga. For this I am going sign an MoU with Uma Bharti’s ministry and give Rs800 crore so that this issue is resolved. There are also 90 spots under municipal corporations and councils, where polluted waters are let into the river. Of that a chronic case is of Kanpur because of the tanneries. We will control the water that goes into the Ganga. Once clean water starts entering the river, the first problem will be resolved. Second priority is to make the flow of Ganga continuous and construct ghats and mokshadhams. I think I can complete 60% of these projects by 2018-end. Those who know me in Mumbai know that I am true to my word. By December 2018 all projects will be awarded.
I will launch a website with all these projects and appeal to the nation, to corporates, industries, NRIs that they should come forward and volunteer to build a mokshadham or a ghat. I will allow them to put up their names and they will have to maintain it for a period of 10-15 years.
Q. What is the overall status of the Eastern Waterfront project.
We have started with implementation of the plan. We are making a new cruise terminal, a passenger terminal at Ferry Wharf.
Now to do make commercial space or not? For now we have kept the real estate portion aside. I don’t want to get into it as it attracts a lot of allegations.
Q: Is there a plan for affordable housing on the Eastern waterfront?
A: No, definitely not. Do we make affordable housing in areas where the real estate price is Rs25,000 per square foot? It is of commercial value, right? We will create affordable housing elsewhere.
Q: Don’t you think the progress of the project (eastern waterfront) is a bit slow?
A: There are many permissions to be sought. There are always many people, who will try to stop the work. Today itself (Friday), I had a meeting with all Mumbai Port Trust officials and I have cleared all the plans. It is not that easy.
The eastern waterfront project will take off by December 2018. There is no plan for a commercial hub yet here but there will be a great Marina. We will have a domestic and international cruise terminal. I have been in talks with the Chief Minister and as per the new Development Plan, we can develop a grand 300-acre garden here with those glass domes like in Singapore.
Q: When your government was in power in 1995, you created 56 flyovers, the Bandra-Worli Sea Link. However, the traffic situation in Mumbai is still bad.
A: Mumbai is surrounded by the sea on three sides. The city belongs to everyone, but there needs to be a cap on the city’s population. The burden on Mumbai needs to be reduced. This is not a linguistic or religious issue. This is not about the ‘Marathi manoos’. The city has a limitation. Every morning, people from all sides enter the city with their cars. The answer to the city’s problem now lies in the rural economy. From 90%, the rural population has come down to 65%.
The main reason behind this migration is lack of jobs. If the villages become more prosperous, the situation will change. People will not come to Mumbai but go to Konkan. We are doing that in villages like Gadchiroli where people are now making ethanol. The last 60-70 years, we were going in the wrong direction. So, no matter how many flyovers you construct, if the population is not controlled, the situation will not improve.
Q: Considering the traffic scenario, do you think Mumbai needs to adopt an odd-even system?
A: No. Mumbai needs water transport and public transport needs to be strengthened. The dependency on private cars needs to reduce. There has to be decentralization so that areas outside the city develop and people move out.
Q: The water transport project for the city has been stuck for a couple of decades now. Can you help with that project ?
A: When I was Maharashtra’s PWD minister, we had moved proposals for the same. Even I am disheartened that it has not happened but it is the state government’s prerogative. We are ready to help the government if they come up with a proposal. We are even ready to put up the money required to build the jetties.
I am going to tell the Chief Minister that if you are not able to initiate water transport in Mumbai, let me do it.
Unfortunately, what happens is that even if the government works towards something, there will be a committee to object to it. I saw this first hand with the Bandra-Worli sea link. We need an integrated approach to development with co-ordination and co-operation from all sectors.
Q: In the near future, is there a plan for the government to tie up with Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) for better roads in Mumbai?
A: When I was the BJP President, I had a meeting with the mayor and Uddhav Thackeray at the mayor’s bungalow in Mumbai. I had requested them to create cement-concrete roads. Now the technology is available for creating concrete roads with bitumen surfacing. In cities where it rains a lot, bitumen roads deteriorate faster. The drainage on the road sides also needs to be strengthened. Mumbai needs a master-plan because the population is huge, there are too many high-rise buildings.
Do you see any potholes on the Mumbai-Pune expressway? It was made in 1997. That time the debate was to either make a bitumen or a concrete road. There are no potholes on the Bandra-Worli Sea link also. We have completely stopped bitumen roads on the National Highways.
Q: You have pointed that the judiciary, bureaucracy, committees create problems for the project.
A: Our constitution has four pillars – legislative, executive, judiciary and the media. The constitutions states duties, responsibilities and limitations of each wing. Appointments and policies are the government’s job. If a judge wants to do this, he can resign his job, contest in the election and become a minister. If all guidelines are going to be laid down by the court, then getting work done is difficult. If all sectors work within in the constitution’s framework, there will be no issues. Creating laws is parliament’s job. If anyone goes against the law, then the decision is with the court. Democracy depends on this.
Q: Is Mumbai more difficult a city to get work done in as compared to Delhi and other cities?
A: Mumbai is the best city. The restaurants, the food, the security, there is no other city like Mumbai in the world. You will not understand this unless you step out of the state.
Q: You are now the water-resources minister. How do you plan to bring in transparency and zero-tolerance to corruption in the scam-ridden irrigation sector in Maharashtra?
A: I don’t want to comment on what has happened in the past. For new works, I am looking at time-bound projects that are fully transparent. I have asked the state to work out a policy for technical and financial qualifications and electronic transfer of money so interface between contractors and officials is zero. I have passed works worth Rs6.5 lakh crores and so far there has not been even a whiff of corruption.
Q: Do you like it in Delhi?
A: Initially, I was wary about it. But, I am undertaking huge projects now. I am building a road up to Kailash Manasarovar, linking char dhams. I am emotional now that I have undertaken such responsibility for the country. Now, I am happy in Delhi. I am not looking to come back here.
Q: During the cabinet expansion, there was speculation that you were given the Defence portfolio but you did not want it?
A: Even earlier (when the cabinet was constituted), I wanted roads. This is a sector I know and I have shown I can deliver. I am happy with it. Even now, I had told the Prime Minister to give me a smaller department or responsibility but then he gave me a huge department (water resources), which is also a tough one. I will try my best.
Q: There is speculations that the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) will join the BJP for the 2019 elections.
A: Since I am in Delhi now, I don’t know what is happening in Maharashtra (laughs).