Indian Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari Image: Amit Verma
The office is busy. There is a stream of visitors coming and going as ministry officials go about their business. The walls are adorned with paintings of deities, and in one corner of the room, the Bhagavad Gita is placed on a carved wooden stand. As I wait for the Union minister of road transport and highways, who is on his way from a site inspection visit in Himachal Pradesh, I look out of the glass door. I see peacocks strut across the manicured green lawn under a clear, blue sky. Suddenly, there is a rush. Nitin Gadkari is back, and is immediately hustled into a meeting.
About an hour later, a cheerful Gadkari walks in and politely apologises for the delay. I notice, despite a long day, the 66-year-old minister shows no signs of fatigue. In fact, I’m told, his day is far from over. As we sit down for the interview, I can see why he is regarded as one of the most respected statesmen in the country. Through the interview he regales us with anecdotes and life lessons.
One of the things that strikes me is his candid desire to not be categorised as a politician.
“I’m telling you very frankly, I’m not a politician. I don’t have political qualities in my personality. I’m a food lover and I’m interested in sports, music. I’m doing a lot of social work. I always feel politics is an instrument of socio-economic reform,” Gadkari insists. “It is nine years since I took oath and I am the longest serving Union road transport and highways minister as far as the record is concerned. In the nine years of my tenure, there is not a single charge of corruption. I am transparent and corruption-free and quality conscious.”
“I want to do something for the poor people of this country who are socially and economically backward. I want to work for the country and make India a $5 trillion economy. We need to make India Atmanirbhar Bharat. I’m a small person and I’m trying to contribute. This is the mission of my life. We are working hard but there are many challenges and we need to do more,” Gadkari says on Forbes India Pathbreakers.
Recounting important life lessons which have helped him deliver in challenging times, Gadkari says, he believes a performance audit is more important than a financial audit.
“I always tell my colleagues that human relationship is the biggest strength of politics, business, industry, and social work. I never feel I am a VIP. I always feel like a common man. One of the important things I tell people is about collective team spirit and to have a good relationship, cooperation, and coordination with all stakeholders. We need to understand their problems and we should be independent, impartial, and fair. We should give justice to people,” he says. Also read: From delay in Bharatmala-1 to EVs, Nitin Gadkari on overcoming hurdles to fast-track growth
“One slogan on my table is that I like people who get things done. Positivity, self-confidence, fast-track decision making process, teamwork, and commitment for the society and the country is equally important. I’m trying my level best to do something for the people and the country. I’m on the path. I always tell people a financial audit is very important. But performance audit is more important. That is an important principle I have in my management philosophy.”
He is also a keen advocate for building a Green India. Gadkari owns a hydrogen car and has championed the case for green fuel for years. He believes an effective strategy to uplift the rural economy is to pave the way for farmers to produce green fuel—such as ethanol, bio-CNG, bio-LNG—to increase farm income and reduce carbon emission.
“We will encourage farmers for the diversification of agriculture towards the energy and power sector which will increase the agricultural growth rate and create not only smart cities but also smart villages,” he says in the wide-ranging interview. “We plan to use different fuel like methanol in trucks. In Bangalore, two-three months ago, I launched a pilot project where they are adding 15 percent methanol in diesel, and the project is successful. We are also using bio-CNG and bio-LNG from biomass. We are now making ethanol from bamboo in Assam. That is a success story. We can make bio-CNG and bio-LNG from pareli which people are burning in Punjab and Haryana causing a pollution problem. Five tonnes of rice straw stubble known as pareli is giving 1 tonne of bio-CNG.”
He proudly talks about the achievements of the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH) in the last nine years, and the seven world records the team created in road construction. He excitedly talks about green expressways, the under-construction Delhi-Mumbai Highway and the government’s ambitious plan to connect Kanyakumari and Kashmir by road. But he is worried about the delay in the completion of road projects due to the slow pace of construction.
“My problem is we need to increase the speed of construction. We are trying for that. But the way in which the system is working… I am talking like a professional. I always tell my officers and engineers that I like people who can get the things done. My only worry is how to increase the speed of taking construction decisions and start the work,” Gadkari explains. “Land acquisition is a big problem. Routinely shifting is a problem, tender process is a problem. Getting environment and forest clearance is a problem. Railway clearance is a problem. There is a very lengthy procedure by which we get the permissions. These are the things where we need to improve the system by which we can make or give more order for construction and increase the pace of construction. We don’t have a resources problem but we have problems where we need to increase the speed.”
The roads sector is one of the most complex parts of the economy and the most critical, too. It is tough, say industry players, to execute and implement projects given the involvement of multiple ministries, agencies, and stakeholders. Yet, in its development lies the panacea for many of India’s development concerns. Moreover, the government is betting on massive infrastructure investments to boost the economy.