Mr Vaishnaw said the country will be adding about 40,000 kilometres of tracks in the next 6 to 8 years.
Expecting to close the financial year having laid 5,500 km of new tracks, India is practically adding a new Switzerland to its railway network every year, Union Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw has said. While estimates vary, the length of the European country's entire railway network is around 5,200km.
Speaking exclusively to NDTV on Thursday, after the BJP-led government presented the Interim Budget for 2024, the Railway Minister said India had added 5,200 km of tracks last year and is on track to add another 5,500 km this year. He also asserted that, unlike previous dispensations, his government's primary focus has been on safety.
Asked about his thoughts on the Budget and the increase in capital expenditure, which is indicative of a focus on infrastructure, Mr Vaishnaw said, "If you look at the journey of the last 10 years, it has been a journey of inclusive growth. It has been a journey in which the people who were left out of development and economic growth, have been brought into the ambit of growth and better life. For example, 11 crore houses have got tap water, 4 crore pucca houses have been built for people living in villages and in urban poor areas."
Emphasising that all these things have made a very big difference in the overall economic growth, the minister said, "Today, India is growing at a good pace of 7 to 8% and almost all the economists in the world have a consensus that India will continue to have a growth of 7 to 8% over the next few years. This is all possible because of the clearly thought-through policy framework that Prime Minister Narendra Modi ji has laid for the country. Today's budget reemphasises both the points: inclusive growth as well as sustained economic growth so that the country can be on a path of a developed nation, Viksit Bharat, in 2047."
'Adding New Germany'
To a question on how his ministry is looking at addressing the growing demand for services, Mr Vaishnaw said that, before 2014, the focus of the UPA government was just on announcing new trains and that they were "never bothered about safety". He said that safety is now the primary focus of the government and that the other key pillars were increasing capacity and getting new technology.
"If you look at today's budget and the previous budgets, there is a continuity in it. From Rs 14,000 crore of budgetary support, today the budgetary support is Rs 2,52,000 crore. In the last 10 years, we have added 26,000 kilometres of new tracks. Last year alone, it was 5,200 kilometres of new tracks. This year is 5,500 kilometres of new tracks. That practically means we are adding a country like Switzerland every year in the railway network of our country," he said.
"We will be adding about 40,000 kilometres of new railway tracks in the next 6 to 8 years, which means adding the entire network of Germany to our network," he added.
Speaking about the three new corridors announced in the budget, Mr Vaishnaw compared them with what had happened in the highway sector when Atal Bihari Vajpayee was the Prime Minister.
"Vajpayee ji started the Golden Quadrilateral project. Similarly, PM Modi has started the corridor project, which is Amrit Chaturbhuj, where, if you look at the railway network, it's shaped like a diamond with four sides and the diagonals and, of course, the Northeast... There will be many places where there will be rail flyovers so that surface crossing doesn't have to happen. In a sense, the entire network will be a totally transformed network," he said.
Emphasising that private capital expenditure has picked up in various sectors, Mr Vaishnaw - who holds the Information Technology and Communications portfolios as well - also spoke about building the semiconductor industry in India.
He said the focus initially is on attracting manufacturing capability and building India's design capability since the country has nearly 30% of global engineers in the field. The move to manufacturing can then follow.
Pointing out that semiconductors are used not just in phones and computers but train sets, automobiles and even lights, the minister said getting the first such unit was important because an ecosystem follows.
Mr Vaishnaw said PM Modi had announced that Micron would set up its plant in Sanand in June 2023 and the first chip should roll out in December 2024.
“India is one of those countries where Prime Minister's policies have created huge trust. So a lot of people want to set up mega manufacturing clusters in India,” he said.