In an exclusive interview to CNBC-TV18’s Shereen Bhan, he touched upon various issues such as the UDAY scheme, Delhi pollution issue, fiscal deficit target, Coal India divestment, winter session, climate change, Money Bill, raid conducted on Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal’s office and most importantly government’s targets for 2016.
With regard to the UDAY scheme, he is confident of it being a success. Already 11 big states are onboard and he expects most of the states to come on board by end of the financial year. According to him, there is very little scope for disagreement between states and the Centre. “So far, all dialogues with states have been very positive,” says Goyal.
Bankers too are completely on board and all their concerns have been addressed, says Goyal.
As far as Coal India divestment is concerned, Goyal is confident that it will happen at the right time. He said CIL is an outstanding company with tremendous future and so there is no reason to shelve the divestment plan.
Talking about India’s commitment at COP21, he says India is focused on energy consumption and energy conservation. “India committed to much larger use of renewable energy at COP21,” he adds.
Below is the transcript of Piyush Goyal’s interview with CNBC-TV18’s Shereen Bhan.
Q: I can’t help but ask you, should we write off the winter session of parliament. The Finance Minister yesterday in his blog said that the winter session looks like it is going to be a washout like the previous session of parliament. In the light of what has happened today with the raids on the Delhi Chief Minister’s office by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and then the TMC and the JDU support to Arvind Kejriwal and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), is it now fair to assume that this session of parliament is over?
A: I don’t know about the entire session of parliament. That is really something for the principal opposition party to talk about. More so because we are very keen that the parliament works and we pass some very important legislations. But I would just like to correct your perception. There has not been any raid on the honourable Chief Minister of Delhi. The Finance Minister made it very clearly. There is an officer who happens to work in that department, there is some cases which have been going on, been under investigation for a long time for some of his decisions made in a prior assignment, nothing related to his current assignment. His office, I am given to understand, is far away from the Chief Minister’s office room. That is where the officials were.
Q: Mr Kejriwal just held a press conference a couple of minutes before we started this interview attacking the Finance Minister and his statement that he made in the parliament saying that why was there a need then if it was on that officer to come to the Chief Minister’s office so on and so forth.
A: The Principal Secretary to the Chief Minister’s office has to be in the building where the Chief Minister’s office is and if they have to investigate – let me ask you an elementary question. We have always held the view and this government has consistently acted on our own conviction that the government should not interfere in any investigation and we should allow investigations to run their course honestly, fairly without prejudice to any political interest one way or the other. Now if at all we were to be inspiring any such raid it is elementary knowledge that we would do it after 23. So, it is very silly of anybody to suggest that it is the government that is trying to put anybody into the dock or anything. Government has nothing to do with this entire process. It is an investigation that is going on. We came to know about it after the thing broke out on television.
Q: There were reports coming in yesterday that seem to suggest and this is something that the Finance Minister has alluded to in the past as well that the government may consider the Money Bill route in order to get over the impact in the Rajya Sabha. Is that now a serious possibility for things like Aadhaar Bill, Bankruptcy Code?
A: All options are open wherever we think it is in national interest and the natter can be taken up by the Lok Sabha which fortunately is functioning, I am sure the government of the day has every right to in the interest of the people, in the interest of economic progress act.
Q: There is very little time left for this session. So, a decision must have been taken by now. You had a parliamentary party meeting today.
A: I am not privy to these decisions. They are taken at a much higher level. I can only talk about decisions related to my ministry.
Q: Would it be safe to assume that this is the route now that the government is going to exercise in this session of parliament to at least ensure the passage of some crucial bills. You can’t do GST but at least some of the other bills?
A: I don’t know whether within this session there would be any such plans but that is something which only the Finance Minister would be privy to. I am not privy to any such information.
Q: The big achievement of your ministry is to really get the UDAY plan off board. At last count if I have been following your tweets accurately, you have got 11 states onboard. When are we likely to see the big guys coming onto the UDAY plan, the likes of UP, Bihar and others?
A: Good part of the entire UDAY scheme is that it has been a bottoms-up approach. So, the entire scheme has been drawn up in consultation with the states. It is a true example of what Prime Minister Modi has articulated right from the beginning that this government will work in a collaborative spirit and take all the states onboard and work as Team India. UDAY has come out of all consultations with stakeholders like states, distribution companies, bankers, consumer interest and therefore there is very little scope for a disagreement between states and the Centre.
I think the political reality has been well understood by everybody across the country, that the people are aspiring for better quality of life and power is an essential ingredient in that. I am very convinced that all the states will come onboard. 11 of the states which have come in are amongst the larger states. 5 or 6 states which are left are already in dialogue at very advanced stages with us, though most of the issues with them were resolved much before UDAY was even formulated. They still have to go through a process of going to their cabinet, taking approvals of the senior leaders.
Q: If I could read between the lines here, is UP waiting now for cabinet approval before it can formally come onboard, is Bihar waiting for cabinet approval before it can formally come onboard, is Tamil Nadu waiting for cabinet approval before it will formally come onboard?
A: I can only say this that we are in continuous dialogue with most of the states that you mentioned. So, far all the dialogue has been very positive, response has been very positive. We have kept an approach of accommodating any concerns that the states have had and I wouldn’t be surprised if you keep hearing good news at very quick intervals in the days to come.
Q: So, do you believe you will be able to sign everybody on board by the end of this calendar year?
A: I wouldn’t say end of this calendar year but I do think that by the end of the financial year end almost all the states will be on board. There may be one or two states who may have some political compulsions like elections which may make them take the decision a little later. Suppose the election court comes in or a model court comes in and they are not able to decide by that time I have yet to personally talk to the north eastern states, the seven sisters and Sikkim. The eight states, the union territories, my teams are talking to them but I will get down to making a few calls and hopefully get them on board too very quickly.
Q: Because you talked about some of the concerns that state governments had raised. As part of the UDAY plan, there were nine important conditions that the government at the centre had put on board for the states to come on board. Have all of those nine conditions been agreed to by the states?
A: It was an optional scheme. There was nothing mandatory in this.
Q: But there were conditions that you put on the table for them to be able to join the scheme?
A: No, but there were conditions that were put on the table on myself, on the central government also, on the government utilities also, on the coal companies also. So, this has been a scheme where the commitments are more in the nature of self imposed conditionalities which we have imposed on ourselves, which states have agreed to impose on themselves.
So, this is a joint and collaborative effort and obviously when somebody is signing up or committing to come onboard on UDAY and writing in to the ministry that we are in principle on and let us start preparing the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) or the agreement or the framework within which we will all work it obviously means that they like this scheme in its entirety.
Having said that even if as we go along some state has some particular concern which goes beyond Uday. After all any scheme cannot be a ‘one size fits all’ and I have always held that view. I believe that in all fairness we have to be practical, we have to be open minded and work in a constructive spirit of cooperation and that is how I don’t see any problem on getting this implemented.
Q: Do you envisage any problem on the end of the bankers. I know that you have held a meeting with the bankers and they seem to be onboard and excited about the UDAY plan as well. Any specific concerns that continue to be unaddressed at this point in time specially when it comes to the bond takeoff?
A: I can only tell you that most states often criticise UDAY for only one thing, that it seems to be favourable for the bankers more than for the states themselves. The fact is that it is a fair scheme which is in the interest of bankers, states and more importantly in the interest of the people of India, the consumers who ultimately deserve to get affordable energy access.
This scheme before it was announced was discussed threadbare with bankers throughout the country, all the bankers who have a stake in the power sector. We also discussed with those bankers who may not have had a stake in discoms but have lent to power companies which are today stranded, stressed without PPA, without business to possibly become NPAs in the days to come. So, UDAY gives the ray of hope that all that also will get resolved in the days to come.
Therefore the entire scheme was discussed with bankers ad nauseam.
Before it was announced I actually took a commitment from each one to make sure that nobody has anything which still leaves a scope for stress. However there were some concerns that I heard in my own home city of Mumbai and after that I once again called the bankers in the same room. We had extensive discussions on December 9 with all the bankers and I once again raised the question if they have any concerns. In fact the bankers profusely thanked the central government, Prime Minister Modi for the great effort that the central government has done to help the banks, help the states and help the people of India.
So, bankers are completely onboard, they had one or two concerns which also were addressed across the table on December 9.
Q: The target that you had set was that you would be able to or discoms would be able to bring down their losses over the next three years. You believe that, that is achievable, that is a realistic target?
A: Absolutely. We don’t do anything in this government which we don’t ourselves believe in. The mood of the nation today is to resolve this problem and that is what strengthens my resolve that in the next three years we should be able to bring the national average down to 15 percent. My personal hope would be that I can get all the discoms down to 15 percent but I do visualise there will be some discoms which have over the years traditionally been so bad that I may have to give them a year or two more to come down to 15 percent. At the same time we have several states like Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh which may actually go down much lower than 15 percent.
So, if the national average comes down to 15 percent I think as a nation it will be a great achievement, it will again result in savings to consumers worth thousands of crore in terms of their electricity tariffs.
More to come