The Covid-19 pandemic has changed the world so much that one could now call the times Before Covid and After Covid, Piyush Goyal, Union minister for railways, and commerce & industry said on Monday.
“It will almost be a new world that we are stepping into… we are all preparing ourselves for a post-Covid world,” he said, adding that “huge good can come of it if we learn our lessons well”. He cited his own example, saying his efficiency was “three times better than it ever was”.
The minister said that while social conversations were good and necessary, the following days and months would be less of social conversations, and more of business—“more action, more outcomes, more output, and effective implementation—that’s going to be the mantra for the next few months and years”. This, he said at the virtual meet, was necessary to bring back the economy on track for fast-paced growth, in a sustained manner.
Goyal, delivering the keynote address at the 184th annual general meeting of the Bombay Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s call for ‘Aatma Nirbhar Bharat’ was not about closing India’s doors to the world. In fact, it was about opening India’s doors wider—about greater global engagement and “a larger role for our Indian entrepreneurs, businesses and our youngsters and our stakeholders… to become a part of the resilient global supply chain”. It was also about “improving our quality of production; achieving higher economies of scale;” and greater production capacities, “so that we not only meet India’s needs, but we also meet global demand but at competitive prices and quality products.” At the same time, some products would have to be imported as the country could not be “competitive in everything”.
The pandemic, Goyal said, had taught India to be not overly dependent on anyone, but become self-reliant. He cited the example of protective equipment. When the lockdown was announced, he said, one of the biggest concerns was the availability of PPE kits, masks, ventilators, adequate supply of oxygen, ICU beds, and Covid isolation centres, prompting several experts to say that India would be one of the worst affected countries.
“Using the lockdown phase of about 10 weeks or so, this country has demonstrated… and I must thank all of India’s industry for coming forward proactively to make India self-sufficient in a variety of ways… to make India ready to fight this pandemic,” he said. As a result, India has more than enough of protective equipment and is even exporting PPE kits.
“Despite supporting 17% of the world population, we have been able to respond in a very organised and mature manner to this grave health crisis. The recovery level in India has now crossed 62%; in terms of number of deaths when compared to the whole world, we are still at very reasonable levels…. Our immunity level as a nation are demonstrated to be far better, more resilient than many other even more advanced and developed economies,” Goyal said.
He added that there were barely four centres that could test for Covid when the lockdown commenced, and some 2,500 people could be tested daily. Now, these tests are carried out in more than a thousand centres across the country and the testing capacity has been ramped up to carry out 300,000 tests daily.
Therefore, Goyal said, it was time “we took some bold initiatives and got back growth in the economy”. He said that in Lockdown 2.0, the country was already moving towards the previous year’s level of activity. “In June, freight loading level was at 93% of the level in June 2019; electricity consumption is upwards of 90% levels; the cement industry is back to the pre-Covid level” of 60%, which is normal during the pre-monsoon period. As railway minister, he acknowledged that freight needed to move fast. On Sunday, he said that the speed of railway freight traffic was “95% more than it was on 12th July 2019. Our average speed was 23.38 km on 12th July 2019, and on 12th July 2020, it was 45.54 km”. And on Sunday “we loaded 92% of what we had loaded one year ago”. He added that different indicators suggest that the June export number was at 88% of the June 2019 level. “So, we are moving rapidly towards a reasonable level of operation.”
He reiterated the PM’s 5i mantra—intent, inclusion, investment, infrastructure, and innovation. “There can be no better description of what we all need to do, not only to bring the economy back on track, but to take the country to its goal of a $5-trillion economy,” he said.
The government and trade bodies must work together to boost growth, bring in more employment, and engage with the world from a position of strength. The government, he said, has identified 12 sectors to promote manufacturing; these include food processing, organic farming, iron & steel, aluminium and copper, agrochemicals, electronics, industrial machinery, furniture, leather and footwear, auto parts, textiles, and marine products.
Goyal also spoke about a multi-pronged approach to ease of doing business, plug-and-play infrastructure, a genuine single window for doing business, and making available affordable finance to business.
“As times change, so do we; as circumstances come before us, we adapt to those circumstances, but we don’t give up. And I think that’s the resilience that the people of India—traders, business, commerce, industry—have demonstrated over the last few months… and the confidence of a nation of 130 crore people that we shall overcome this crisis and convert this crisis into an opportunity,” he said.
Goyal concluded by wishing actor Amitabh Bachchan, who tested positive for Covid-19 recently, a speedy recovery. “His message on fighting with the disease, not with Corona patients has guided people.”