(Note: This interview with Minister Piyush Goyal was taken before the Pulwama terror attack. As a mark of respect to our nation’s brave martyrs, we held the publication of this interview back so far.)
The General Elections is only weeks away and the electoral hustle bustle is just about picking up. One felt the mood changing after the Interim Union Budget 2019-2020 where big bang reforms were delivered, especially, for the middle-class. With Finance Minister Arun Jaitley away for treatment, acting FM Piyush Goyal delivered the budget speech.
OpIndia.com recently had the opportunity to interview Union Minister of Railways, Piyush Goyal. During the interview, Goyal answered questions on a variety of issues including BJP’s electoral prospects ahead of the 2019 General elections and the interim budget which he presented as the interim Union Minister.
The questions have been mentioned in bold followed by Union Minister Piyush Goyal’s answers.
In the interim budget, middle-class was the focus. Was this planned since the beginning or did the party take this decision after sensing some discontent among the middle-class?
Goyal downplayed the suggestions that the massive benefits provided to the middle-class and income taxpayers in the interim budget were motivated by reports of ‘middle-class discontent’ with the BJP. “This was what we had planned and we have been working towards this in the past 4 years. I have listed the steps taken by the government in the previous budgets, this is just one more step in the series. Collectively, we had already given 80-90 thousand crores benefits to the middle class over the past 4 years and another 25 thousand crores this year, so this is merely a continuation. Put together, the tax benefits help people with income up to 6, 7, 8 lakhs and sometimes even 9 lakhs, almost become tax-free.”
Goyal also remarked on the low rates of inflation during the Narendra Modi government which benefits the middle class the most. “It’s at 2% right now. Never before has there been 5 years of consistently low inflation. You look at any 5 years in the history of India, we never had a period where we have seen 5 years of consistently low inflation. We inherited it at 9-10%, at one point, it had gone up to over 12% during the UPA regime. We have brought it down to 2%. I think it’s a huge achievement.”
The middle class cares about inflation, taxes, and corruption. Rahul Gandhi is trying to raise the bogey of corruption. Do you think his allegations will stick?
“People of India know what’s good for them. They trust Narendra Modi. Now, with the Supreme Court’s verdict, the CAG report has come out, the French government and Indian government have issued clarifications on the matter. I think the issue is settled and any amount of mudslinging will not have any impact.”
There has been a lot of talk about the lack of jobs in the market since BJP came to power. Do you think we have a job creation issue or the issue of lack of data on job creation?
On the matter of job creation, Goyal insisted that we need better measures for collecting data on jobs. “The nature of jobs is changing all over the world. There are numerous areas where the jobs are not being counted because our method of collection of data is still based on old times.” When asked why a consolidated database on job creation, direct and indirect is not being released, he said that the nature of jobs are changing and the consolidated list is being compilated, to be released soon.
There have been allegations made against the BJP that the government was slow in pursuing cases of corruption during the first 4 years of the government and has only picked up pace only a few months earlier with the extradition of Christian Michel and others related to various scams.
“Our efforts to bring back such people have been most consistent. We have never slackened the pace at all. All of this culminates after due process, you can’t do it overnight. There are international agreements over which these achievements happen and I am happy that it has been one government which has been really relentless in its pursuit of such fugitives.”
Mulayam Singh Yadav supported Prime Minister Modi during the last session of Lok Sabha. What do you think changed? Do you think his statement is based on ground reality or change of heart?
“I think the people of Uttar Pradesh have made up their mind in support of Prime Minister Modi. Very clearly, for years, they haven’t seen a decisive government taking care of law and order the way it is today. Large parts of Uttar Pradesh have suffered due to lack of amenities for years and years which we have provided them. Over several generations, people in Uttar Pradesh were reconciled to such kind of existence, that has changed. And I believe there can be no better example of this than the results in Kairana which was not even a national election. Despite the entire opposition being together and Kairana not being a traditional BJP stronghold, we won over 46% of the votes, it’s no mean achievement. I think the winds are very much in BJP’s favour. Our effort is we are going to win 1 seat more than 2014, not any seat less.”
When asked if SP patriarch Mulayam Singh Yadav’s remarks where he expressed his desire to see Narendra Modi re-elected as Prime Minister for a second term were indicative of his personal opinions or ground realities, Goyal replied, “My opinion is that it’s both, that it is the ground reality and also that it has been a good government which has worked for the welfare of the poor. Also, his traditional instinct that we need a good government in the country.”
What are the plans for Tamil Nadu? You are the prabhari there
Piyush Goyal said that the BJP is in talks with various parties and mentioned that “whichever parties have aligned with the Congress, they have been completely wiped out.” He also said that Rajnikanth is a “good friend” and at some point, will try meeting him as well.
The Modi government inherited a mess in the Railway sector. How did you manage to turn that around?
“Historically before the Modi government came in, there were fund shortages. You think of any program, the first thing that you had to deal with was the lack of funds. The mindset was one of ‘We don’t have funds, so we can’t do much’. But mindset today has changed, Prime Minister Modi has ensured that Railways gets enough funds. We are focusing on modern technologies, we have revolutionized the cleanliness levels. Railway stations are cleaner than ever before. Now, we are trying to refurbish the trains to make the whole passenger experience much more delightful.”
Minister Piyush Goyal also spoke about how they revolutionarised the punctuality of railways and the importance of data collection when it comes to the railways. He said that earlier, the punctuality data was not accurate. On paper, the punctuality was always good. But people have always complained about punctuality. Goyal said that when a root cause analysis was done, they realised that punctuality was based on station master reports, which were inaccurate. Now, they have put data loggers across the country at all the interjections. The day the new system was switched on, the punctuality fell by 20%. Hence, unless the data is more robust and captures the actual position, a fix on the problem can never happen.
The Vande Bharat Express, which used to be called Train 18, has been displayed as an engineering marvel in India. What makes it so?
“The Vande Bharat is a train set like they use abroad. It’s not different coaches being put together, so the safety level is much more. Also, the luxury levels will be much higher than any other train apart from speed. It also doesn’t have an engine. Further, there are regenerative power benefits. In many respects, it is modern technology at work in India and my own sense is that it will help change the passenger experience in India. We are already in the process of procuring 30 more trains and going forward, we will keep expanding. It’s the first time that India engineers have designed, manufactures and conceptualized this. It gives you a lot of self-confidence when you do something like that and it has been done in a time-bound manner, good modern technology and it is world-class. Going forward, we will improvise on it. And at the end of the day, I think we may end up supplying them to the rest of the world from India.”
There has been a lot of controversy regarding the Angel Tax. While the government has asserted that there will be no coercive action, there have been demands to withdraw this provision altogether considering the Modi government has been big on ‘stand up, startup’. What do you have to say about it?
“Firstly, there is no such thing as an Angel Tax. This problem started because earlier, many people used to have shell companies, issuing shares at a huge premium and using that method to launder money. So, restrictions had to be brought. As you know, we have delisted nearly 300,000 companies and action had to be taken against those who indulge in such practices. Now, unless a company has some cogent evaluation or value and shares are issued at exorbitant premiums, it raises suspicion about the intent behind it. Now, what is needed is to separate the honest taxpayers and the real venture capitalists and start-ups from those indulge in the money laundering business. The tax that is presently being imposed is on those operations where money laundering was being done by issuing shares at a huge premium. We are trying to ensure that honest start-ups and capitalists do not suffer as a consequence. I am quite confident that we will be able to resolve the issue soon and no honest person will suffer. If necessary, when we come back, we will bring back measures which are necessary to address the issue.”