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Remarks by Consul General Abhishek Shukla on the topic ‘India@70’ in ‘Breakfast with the Cape Times’- Oct 24, 2018

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Justice Siraj Desai,
JusticeTaswell Papier,
Mr. Aneez Salie, Editor, Cape Times,
Ms. Lutfia Vavej,Group Executive: Marketing and
Communications, Independent Media,
Members of diplomatic and consular corps,

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.

Good morning.

I am truly honoured by your presence today morning to listen to me about India@70, and, if I may admit, a bit intimidated as well, at the prospect of addressing a formidable gathering like we have today on a topic which is hard to do justice with in a short span of time, given the enormity of the issues to be addressed and the expanse, both in time and space of the topics to be covered.

Most of you would be wondering at the title ‘India@70.’ Year 2018 marks the 70th anniversary of our independence and thus the title. 70 years is but a small period in the 5,000 years of continuous civilization that is India. However, this duration punches way above its weight because of contemporary relevance, eventful journey and the trials and tribulations.

Liberated from colonial fetters on 15th August, 1947, India’s rebirth was not without pains. Partition of the country, a direct result of the divisive colonial politics that led to the creation of Pakistan, was a sad by-product. India embarked on,quoting our first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru,its tryst with destiny,with firm resolve, albeit some trepidation.

The process of nation building took time and enormous efforts. More than 550 princely states, i.e. independent monarchies who were given the option by Britishers to either go independent or unite with either India or Pakistan were incorporated in the Union of India with the gargantuan efforts of Sardar Patel, one of the founding fathers of modern India and rightly called ‘Iron Man of India’ through deft negotiations, diplomacy and tactics. It’s a matter of fortuitous coincidence that his statue, aptly called the ‘Statue of Unity’ will be unveiled in Gujarat, India a week from now on 31st October, his birth anniversary. This statue will be the tallest statue in the world, twice the size of Statue of Liberty.

The exercise of nation building continued in earnest thereafter. Success stories in form of the famed institutions like the Indian Institute of Technology (IITs), Indian Institute of Management (IIMs), Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO),All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), Indian Institute of Science in Bengaluru, Tata Institute of Fundamental Research in Mumbai and so on and so forth, coupled with better standards of living,improved human development indices, agricultural growth, self-sufficiency in grains and milk production through programme like Green Revolution and Operation Flood in 1960s and 70s respectively, strides in scientific research, sustained economic growth and grit and entrepreneurship of the people sustained and nourished this ride over more than 70 years.

In our quest for rapid economic, scientific and educational development after independence, our first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru termed the institutions like dams, steel plants, scientific research institutes, power plants, etc., set up to further these objectives as “Temples of modern India.’In a deeply religious and spiritual society like India, this parallel was a manifestation of the ideals and objectives of our leaders and people.

To top it all, the biggest accomplishment of India has been it’s thriving democracy. We saw our share of ups and down but every time, democracy emerged stronger and more vibrant. When the world was speculating about an early demise of independent India which was complex to boot, complicated to run, as diverse in geography, language, religion, culture, cuisine, etc., as it could get, low on human development indices (literacy rate in 1951 stood at meagre 18%)- a legacy of the colonial rule of more than 200 years, we proved to the world that our diversity was our strength and it continues to this day.

To give a snapshot.

From 54 political parties in the first general elections in India in 1951,we had 464 in the last general elections in 2014 where814.5 million people were eligible to vote making it the largest ever election in the world.

We Indians communicate in 22 official languages, 99 other languages and thousands of dialects (more than 19,500 as per some estimates).

We have seen other democratic regimes around the world, which took birth at around the same time or later show promise but ended up diminished and faltering. India stood as a beacon of hope for free democratic societies around the world and played its part in liberation of many other countries around the world, including the land where I stand now. But more about it later when I talk about the gamut of our relationship with South Africa.

It was essential to touch upon our recent history and the arduous task of nation building to give our esteemed audience a flavour of challenges, a sense of scale and a perspective of what went into making of India@70.

So, where are we at India@70?

Let us looks at some facts and figures.

  • India’s population is currently 2nd largest in the world, around 1.3 billion.
  • India is the fastest-growing among major economy in the world.
  • India is the 3rdlargest country in the world in terms of GDP (PPP).
  • Annual GDP growth rose from 3.7% in 1961 and 6.7% in 1980 to 10.3% in 2010. In last three years i.e. 2015, 2016 and 2017, the growth rates clocked 8.2%, 7.1% and 6.7% respectively.
  • India registered a record improvement on World Bank Ease of Doing Business ranking from 142 to 100 between 2014-2017. 

Not just that:

  • India will have world’s largest youth population by 2020.
  • India has the third largest group of scientists and technicians in the world.
  • India to be the largest supplier of university graduates in the world by 2020.
  • Total mobile subscribers base in India has grown to 981.65 million


  • Over the next three decades, more than 350 million Indians will move into cities.
  • Around 100 smart cities are being planned to accommodate India’s burgeoning urban population.
  • Over the next two decades, more than US$ 1.5 trillion investments have been planned for infrastructure.

Mid boggling. Isn’t it?

And how are we celebrating India@70?

Have a look at advances in space science in India. Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO)has acquired cult status among space scientists in the world. ISRO will celebrate India@75, i.e. 75th year of India’s independence in 2022 by launching India’s 1st human mission, making India the fourth nation in the world to launch a human spaceflight mission. This is on top of our moon mission- Chandrayaan-1 which was launched in October, 2008 and its next edition Chandrayaan-2 which is scheduled for launch in January, 2019 and the Mars Orbiter Mission, launched November, 2013. It was a matter of great satisfaction that India was the first country to have succeeded in the very first attempt.  In May, 2016, ISRO launched India’s first indigenous space shuttle.

In February last year, ISRO successfully launched a total of 104 satellites of varying sizes in one go. These included Indian satellites, 96 satellites from the USA, one each from The Netherlands, Switzerland, Israel, Kazakhstan and UAE.  ISRO is a proud flagbearer of the accomplishments which typify India@70.

India@70 is also witnessing transformative and silent revolutions unleashed at grassroot as well as central level. These revolutions are aimed at structural transformation and entrepreneurial rejuvenation across multiple levels through empowerment of Indians across divides and unbottling of spate of opportunities.

Take for example the issue of financial inclusion.

India launched the world’s biggest financial inclusion initiative in Aug 2014 in Prime Minister’s Public Wealth Scheme, popularly calledPradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana (PMJDY). This scheme propounds an integrated approach to bring about comprehensive financial inclusion of all the households in the country. The plan envisages universal access to banking facilities with at least one basic banking account for every household.

All of us know the issues with subsidy and grants to disadvantaged section of the society. The pilferage in the pipeline forced one of our former Prime Minister’s to admit that only 15% of the subsidy reached the intended beneficiary. This scheme to provide universal access to banking facilities also envisages channelling all government benefits to the beneficiaries’ accounts and pushing the Direct Benefits Transfer (DBT) scheme. This inclusive financial ecosystem has enabled exclusion of leakage and corrupt practices in delivery of public services. The scheme recently entered the Guinness Book of World Records for being the world’s largest direct cash transfer scheme. Under this scheme, more than 146 million people are receiving direct cash subsidies. This scheme has also helped identify and block more than 33 million duplicate or inactive accounts, helping save millions.

The Jan Dhan Yojana has also benefited women in a big way. Out of 310 million such bank accounts, 160 million are of women. The percentage of total bank accounts held by women has almost doubled, up from 28 percent in 2014 to 40 percent.

Creation of a sustainable and scalable inclusive financial ecosystem is a challenging task, more so in a landscape like India which abounds in diversity in geography and disparity in income levels. Nonetheless, the target of opening one account per household was achieved by 26th January 2015.  It also set the Guinness World Record for most bank accounts opened in one week -18 million plus. Almost 318 million beneficiaries have been banked so far with a balance of INR 809.5 billion (R 162 billion) in beneficiary accounts.

A success story in this respect is that of Bandhan Bank in India. Realizing the need to extend the geographic coverage of banks and improve access to banking services, the Reserve Bank of India in Feb, 2013 decided givetwo additional banking banking licences to private sector players. Bandhan Bank was one of the two. The parent of Bandhan Bank, Bandhan Financial Services Ltd. is the largest micro-finance organization in India. The focus of Bandhan is to bank the unbanked population which hasn’t been touched by formal banking system, with a special emphasis on women empowerment.

Another milestone was achieved in last mile financial inclusion when 650 branches and 3,250 access points of India Post Payments Bank (IPPB) were simultaneously launched earlier this year on 1st September. At a time when post offices around the world are trying to justify their raison d’etre, the India Posts Payments Bank gave the postal networks a fresh lease of life. It intends to piggyback on the post office network with its pan-India physical presence of 155,000 post offices and leverage the postal network’s long experience in cash handling and savings mobilization to provide hassle-free banking services at the doorsteps of the hitherto unbanked and unserved population in remote corners of the country.

With a network of 155,000 post offices countrywide, and more than 300,000 postmen and rural post assistants servicing the last mile, IPPB will be India’s most accessible bank. In one stroke, launch of IPPB increased bank branches in rural India by 2.5 times. It will be the enabler for opening up of a huge market at the bottom of pyramid to various other banking and finance companies, retail chains and a plethora of other commercial goods and service providers.

While issue of financial inclusion is one thing, that of financial stability by addressing structural issues is another end of the spectrum. India in May 2016 instituted a comprehensive bankruptcy code called Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (IBC). This is touted as the second most important reform after the Goods and Services Tax (GST).

Indian companies in capital intensive sectors like infrastructure, iron & steel, etc., which had been under financial stress o account of a host of factors and consequently inhibiting their own growth as well that of the sector by clogging banking channels were given a fresh lease of life as well as an exit path through this code.

According to Bloomberg, the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code will unleash a wave of deal-making which could push mergers and acquisitions in India beyond the previous annual record of $83 billion, set in 2017. Much of this will be derived from the consolidation of the sectors, particularly in infrastructure. Such an institutional framework is necessary to nourish and sustain the growth in infrastructure projects in India and ease credit pangs for entrepreneurs.

The recent structural reforms reached their pinnacle in GST- the Goods and Services Tax. India crossed the rubicon around a year ago when it brought a new indirect taxation regime covering the entire country in form of the Goods and Services Tax (GST). GST, one indirect tax for the whole country which turned India into one unified common market was launched on the midnight on 1st July 2017.

Launch of GST ushered in a new ‘tax unity’ in India, bring about a dash of uniformity in indirect taxation regime in India. You will be astounded to know that there were 7 taxes of the federal government and 8 taxes of the provinces and several different taxes for different commodities. As per an estimate, the number of taxes summed up to a figure of 500. GST washed that all into a uniform taxation regime with five different slabs.

Introduction of a unified and simpler taxation regime was essential for India@70, in order to get rid of the legacy issues and make a transition to an efficient and fast-moving economy.

Should you not yet be tempted by the lure of India@70, I have another story for you, that of the strides in women empowerment.

BetiBachao, BetiPadhao campaign, which literally means ‘Save daughter, educate daughter’ campaign was launched in January, 2015 in the Indian province of Haryana as one of the flagship programmes to address the declining child sex ratio and related issues of empowerment of women on a life-cycle continuum. The campaign focusses on awareness and advocacy campaign for changing mindsets and multi-sectoral action in focus areas. For those of you who are well acquainted with social landscape of India, Haryana has the dubious distinction of having the lowest child sex ratio in India.

The campaign includes provision of financial sustenance to the girl child and the family by building incentives into saving instruments in banks.  There is another planthat aims to provide cooking gas connections to poorest of the poor households in the country. This is aimed at replacing the unclean cooking fuels mostly used in the rural India with the clean and more efficient LPG (Liquefied Petroleum Gas). So far over 34 million free gas connections have been provided under the scheme. The scheme has proved to be a liberator in a sense for womenfolk and their family since it has reduced their exposure to health hazards associated with cooking based on fossil fuel, besides bringing in obvious creature comforts.

Further, under the ‘Stand Up India’ scheme, women entrepreneurs will be given loans worth Indian rupees 1-10 million. Maternity leave has been extended from 12 weeks to 26 weeks. In order to build stakes and ownership in the systems, houses allotted under the Prime Minister Housing Scheme can be done in the name of lady of the house only.

India@70 is women-centric, technology friendly, and empowerment-oriented.

The Pink-colour Economic Survey 2017-18 tabled in the Indian Parliament in January this year laid special emphasis on gender equality and addressed three specific dimensions of gender, viz. agency, attitudes and outcomes.  A social media campaign, started by an ex-village chief in 2015 in Haryana- #SelfiewithDaughter, became an instant hit in India and around the world

Let us look at another transformative grassroot revolution aimed at cleaning India.

The lack of adequate sanitation and cleanliness in rural areas, in particular the practice of open defecation, are major developmental issues facing India. These are not just about construction of toilets, but are much more complex, involving cultural and behavioural biases.

On 2nd October, 2014, while India and the world were celebrating the 145th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, India launched the Swachh Bharat (Clean India) Mission as a national movement to accelerate the efforts to achieve universal sanitation coverage and to put focus on sanitation. The campaign aimed to achieve the vision of a ‘Clean India’ by 2nd October 2019, the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi.

Emphasizing the link, a new slogan- ‘Satyagrahi’ (one who holds firmly to truth) to ‘Swacchagrahi’ (one who holds firmly to cleanliness)’ has been coined, with ‘Swacchagrahi’ positioned as the changemaker, one who encourages and inspires others. Rightly so, the logo of Clean India Mission resembles the iconic single wire eye glass frame used by Mahatma Gandhi, with the tagline- ‘A step towards cleanliness.’

The Clean India Mission focuses on the need to address a multi-dimensional challenge through a multi-sectoral approach with the involvement of multiple agencies. Thus, it is as much a mission for Government, as for public sector companies, corporate houses, celebrities as well as ordinary Indians.

As of 5 PM yesterday, 87.6 million household toilets have been built since 2nd October, 2014; 515,455 villages and 530 districts have been declared open defecation free. More than 95% of India is now open defecation free, compared to around 39% in 2014.

The objective of Clean India also fits in with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) (Clean water and sanitation is Goal 6 of SDGs). While SDGs aim to achieve access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all and end open defecation by 2030, India has focused itself upon an ambitious target of attaining this objective by 2nd October next year, an objective truly ambitious in scale but attainable with participation of all.

And not just cleanliness of physical space around us. India@70 has environmental cleanliness and conservation firmly in its sight.

Sample this:

  • The largest renewable capacity expansion programme in the world is currently being undertaken in India.
  • India is on its way to achieving 175 GW target for installed renewable energy capacity (out of which, 100 GW to be from solar power) by 2022; Since we are all set to achieve this target, plan is to raise the bar to 200 GW.
  • India stands at 4th and 6th position globally in wind and solar power installed capacity.

India is carrying out some very unique and innovative projects in this regard. In addition to development of solar parks and ultra-mega solar power projects, solar power plants on canal banks/ canal tops, we are installing solar panels on tops of railway coaches and install solar energy-based street lights in power-deficient areas. In an ambitious plan to replace all incandescent bulbs with energy efficient LED bulbs, around 280 million LED bulbs have already been distributed by the Indian Government resulting into saving of more than $2 billion in the last three years along with 4 GW of electricity. This also supported reduction in the carbon footprint of the economy by 30 million tonnes. The LED scheme has turned out to be one of the most successful schemes through an absolute windfall in picking up low-hanging fruits.

India undertook to lead the process on combating climate change through the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC), submitted to the United Nations Frame work convention on Climate change which had the self-imposed mandate to reduce the emissions intensity of the GDP by 33 to 35 % by 2030 from 2005 level, create additional carbon sink of 2.5 to 3 billion tonnes of Co2 equivalent through additional forest and tree cover by 2030 and achieve 40% cumulative electric power capacity from non-fossil fuel-based energy resources by 2030. 

Under INDCs, India also undertook to anchor a global solar alliance, named subsequently as International Solar Alliance (ISA). ISA is an initiative jointly launched by the Prime Minister of India and President of France on 30th Nov, 2015 at Paris, in the presence of the Secretary General of the UN, on the side lines of COP 21 UN Climate Change Conference. The main objective of ISA is to undertake joint efforts required to reduce the cost of finance and the cost of technology, mobilize more than US$ 1,000 billion of investments needed by 2030 for massive deployment of solar energy, and pave the way for future technologies adapted to the needs of 121 countries lying fully or partially between the tropics.
As on date, 61 countries have signed the ISA Framework Agreement and 33 countries have signed and ratified it.

India@70 is at pole position in the field of renewable energy and global action against climate change. Our plan to make our cities smarter will add to our efforts in embracing use of renewable energy and contain and then mitigate climate change.

Launched in mission-mode in June, 2015, the objective of ‘Smart Cities Mission’ is to promote urban centres that provide core infrastructure and give a decent quality of life to its citizens, a clean and sustainable environment through application of ‘Smart’ Solutions. The programme also focusses on sustainable and inclusive development. The idea is to create a self-sustaining and replicable model in urban development and management, a critical requirement in a country of the size and population of India.

In terms of strategy, the Smart Cities Mission focusses upon city improvement (retrofitting), city renewal (redevelopment) and city extension (greenfield development) besides a pan-city initiative in which smart solutions are applied to most of the operations in a city. 

A total number of 100 smart cities have been distributed among the provinces and federally administered areas in India on the basis of an equitable criteria.

Around a third of the total population in India lives in urban areas with the proportion growing every year. It is not only imperative but also necessary to improve urban areas and make them sustainable growth poles.

A common area of concern among most of the developing countries is the issue is skilling its population. Living here in South Africa, we can very well appreciate the role of a skilled population in contributing to the growth of the country. Opportunities of employment and employability of the citizens, thus, assumes immense significance to achieve this objective. 

54% of India’s population is below 25 years of age and over 62% of the population is the working-age group. Yet, less than 5% of the Indian population has undergone formal skills training. By 2025, almost 1 in 5 of the world’s working age population (18.3%) will be Indian. Recent skill gap reports suggest that over 109 million incremental human resources will be required in India alone, across 24 key sectors by the year 2022.

India started addressing this issue in earnest with the setting up of National Skill Development Corporation India (NSDC), a public-private initiative in 2009. The initiative gained further momentum when India’s first integrated National Policy for Skill Development and Entrepreneurship was announced in July, 2015. We aspire to become the “Skill Capital of the World.” Skill India programme serves as a cradle to grave arrangement by imparting Government funded industry-relevant skill training, recognizing or updating prior learning, certification as well as placements. This has been successful up to a large extent in addressing the supply-demand mismatch in employable skills.

An initiative called MUDRA (Micro Units Development & Refinance Agency Ltd.) launched in April 2015 served to “Fund the Unfunded” by facilitating loans to sections of the society that need these the most to achieve optimum utilization of their skills.

Aiding Skill India campaign was the ‘Stand Up India’ scheme launched in April, 2016 to promote entrepreneurship at grass root level for economic empowerment and job creation. The scheme seeks to leverage the institutional credit structure to reach out to the underserved sector of the people, including women. Stand-Up India scheme serves is to facilitate bank loans between INR 1 million (ZAR 182,000) and 10 million (ZAR 1.82 million) to disadvantaged section of the society for setting up a greenfield enterprise.

Several of the private sector companies have also jumped on to the bandwagon with their own skills development programme, incentivized by the Government and aided by suitable financial infrastructure in place. To name a few, TATA Strive, IL&FS Skills, Art of Living Skills Development, etc. have been doing a stellar job in providing skilled workforce to the industry. 

India has also build upon robust relationships with countries like Japan, Germany, Switzerland, UK, USA, Australia, etc. with a purpose of technology transfer in skill training, training of trainers, setting up of model and centers of excellence, etc.

You will be happy to note that India and South Africa have decided to jointly develop skill institutes in South Africa. The first of a series of skilling institutes was jointly inaugurated earlier this month by Minister of Higher Education and Training of South Africa Ms. NalediPandor and the Indian High Commissioner in TVET College, Tshwane South.

Skilled manpower is also essential to enhance initiatives like Make In India, yet another initiative that characterizes India@70. Make In India aims to convert India into a manufacturing powerhouse.

The Make in India campaign evolved a creative branding strategy which attempted to inspire, empower and enable in equal measure. It sought to (a) inspire confidence in India’s capabilities amongst potential partners abroad, the Indian business community and citizens at large; (b) provide a framework for a vast amount of technical information on 25 industry sectors; and (c) reach out to a vast local and global audience via social media and constantly keep them updated about opportunities, reforms, etc.

Make In India is the more popular cousin of several other older initiatives aimed at promoting manufacturing in India. Manufacturing will be a key industry in the five industrial corridor projects that are being developed across India, namely Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor, Amritsar-Kolkata Industrial Corridor, Bengaluru-Mumbai Economic Corridor, Chennai-Bengaluru Industrial Corridor and Vizag-Chennai Industrial Corridor.

Now if you have map of India in your mind, you could very well sketch these industrial corridors and realize that in connecting already established economic hubs, these corridors pass through stretches of least or under-developed areas.

These industrial corridors will serve as the sinews that will change the urban landscape of India and are thus critical in raising the share of manufacturing in India's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) from the current levels of 15% to 25% by 2025. The Dedicated Freight Corridor project of Indian Railways which has been in works since 2005 and entails a quadrilateral linking the four metropolitan cities of Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata and two diagonals (Delhi-Chennai and Mumbai-Howrah), with a total route length of 10,122 km will serve as a backbone of these industrial corridors and expedite processing times, a critical issue in determining competitiveness in international trade.

Smart Industrial Cities are being developed along the corridors. These cities are being developed to integrate the new workforce that will power manufacturing and will lead to planned urbanization.

An important piece in the jigsaw puzzle of India@70 is connectivity, both digital and geographical.

The Digital India programme is a flagship programme of the Government of India with a vision to transform India into a digitally empowered society and knowledge economy. In short, it attempts to ensure that the Government's services are made available to citizens electronically by improved online infrastructure and by increasing internet connectivity and by making the country digitally empowered in the field of technology.

Just one example of BharatNet will be able give you a glimpse of the ambition and scale of the project.  BharatNet is short for Broadband Network Limited, a Telecom infrastructure providerset up by the government of India for the establishment, management and operation of National Optical Fibre Network to provide a minimum of 100 Mbps broadband connectivity to all 250,000 Gram panchayats in the country, covering nearly 625,000 villages, to improve telecommunications in India.  The last mile connectivity with a total of 700,000 wifi hotspots will cover all 625,000 villages of India. BharatNet is the world's largest rural broadband connectivity program and is built 100% under Make in India economy-booster employment-generation initiative with no involvement of foreign companies.

Digital India will bring all Government services to the hands of Indians through their smarphone apps. An app called UMANG dispenses 307 services through 66 applications across 17 provinces in India.

This will have a mega impact on enhancing speed of service delivery and cutting down wasteful processes. With it’s multiplier effects in economy and society, this is one game changer.

Geographical connectivity received a boost exactly a month ago when the 100th airport in India was inaugurated at Pakyong in the north-eastern province of Sikkim. Pakyong Airport is part of a larger plan to connect small towns in India through affordable flights- Regional Connectivity Scheme ‘UDAN’ launched in October, 2016. It is an innovative scheme to develop regional aviation market in India where airlines bid for seat subsidies in a market-based mechanism. This first-of-its-kind scheme in the world intends to create affordable yet economically viable and profitable flights on regional routes so that flying becomes affordable to the common man even in hitherto unconnected and off-the-grid small towns.

UDAN has a unique market-based model to develop regional connectivity. Interested airline and helicopter operators can start operations on hitherto un-connected routes by submitting proposals to the implementing agency.

Affordability is the key virtue of UDAN; fare for a one-hour journey of around 500 kms on a fixed wing aircraft or for a 30-minute journey on a helicopter would be capped at INR 2,500 (R 489), with proportionate pricing for routes of different stage lengths and flight duration.

The Indian aviation sector contributed US$ 15 billion to GDP in 2017-18 and has been among the fastest growing aviation sectors across the world. UDAN added to the growth momentum with it’s flying start. So far, UDAN route contracts connecting 56 unserved and 17 underserved airports along with 31 helicopter destinations have been awarded; 90 routes have already been operationalized. There are over 1,000 firm orders to procure aircrafts by Indian scheduled carriers.

In April this year, the last village in India Leisang, a small village with a population of around 65 in the north-eastern province of Manipur was electrified.  With this, electricity has reached all corners of India. The number of total inhabited villages in India stands at 597,644. This development owes its genesis to the landmark plan to provide last mile connectivity and service connections to all remaining households in both rural and urban areas and achieve universal household electrification by 31st March, 2019.

The story of India@70 will be incomplete without touching upon the global connect. Through shared struggle, inspiring ideals, principled stand and development partnership over the last 71 years, India has earned much respect among the global comity of nations. While it is not possible to elaborate expanse of relationship with many countries or regions, it is but fit to recall India’s contribution to the international community through the agency of United Nations since today is UN Day.

India was among the original members of the United Nations that signed the Declaration by United Nations at Washington DC on 1st January 1942 and also participated in the historic UN Conference of International Organization at San Francisco from April to June 1945. As a founding member of the United Nations, India strongly supports the purposes and principles of the UN and has made significant contributions to implementing the goals of the Charter, and the evolution of the UN’s specialized programmes and agencies. India has been a major partner of the UN specialized agencies and funds and programmes on development issues and has been one of the bigger contributors to their core funding from developing countries. More than 8,000 Indian peacekeepers serve in UN operations.

Taking about Africa, India’s commitment for strengthening and intensifying relationship with Africa is unwavering.  This is exemplified by the commitment shown by the leadership in India; in the past four years, our President, Vice President and Prime Minister have collectively visited no less than 25 countries in Africa. This is in addition to other ministers who have virtually visited all nations in Africa. India hosted the Third India- Africa Forum Summit from Oct 26-29, 2015 in New Delhi where a ‘dynamic and transformative agenda’ of mutual empowerment and resurgence that was aimed to bring India and Africa closer in times to come was unveiled. The Summit brought the leaders and representatives of all 54 countries of Africa, with 41 countries represented at the level of Heads of State/Government to New Delhi for the first time in a landmark Summit.

The International Solar Alliance has become another vehicle of engagement; its inaugural summit in Delhi in March this year saw several leaders from Africa.

India-Africa development partnership currently includes implementation of 180 lines of credit worth about US$ 11 billion in over 40 African countries. At the last India-Africa Forum Summit in 2015, India had committed a concessional line of credit of US$ 10 billion and US$ 600 million in grant assistance. Every year, over 8,000 African youth are trained in a diverse set of programmes. Indian companies have invested over US$ 54 billion in Africa; bilateral trade with Africa stands at over US$ 62 billion.

Closer home,India was at the forefront of opposition to the apartheid regime in South Africa. We were the first country to sever trade relations with the apartheid Government in 1946 and subsequently imposed a complete - diplomatic, commercial, cultural and sports - embargo on South Africa. India worked consistently to put the issue of apartheid on the agenda of the UN, NAM and other multilateral organizations and for the imposition of comprehensive international sanctions against South Africa. You would be surprised to know that the African National Congress (ANC) maintained a representative office in New Delhi from the 1960s onwards. India actively worked for the AFRICA Fund to help sustain the struggle through support to the frontline states.

India restored relations with South Africa after a gap of over four decades with the opening of a Cultural Centre in Johannesburg in May 1993. Diplomatic and consular relations with South Africa were restored in November 1993 when the then South African Foreign Minister Pik Botha visited India. A Consulate General was thereafter established in Johannesburg. The Indian High Commission in Pretoria was opened in May 1994.

Incidentally, this year marks 25 years since the resumption of diplomatic relations with South Africa in 1993.  A year before, we marked 20 years of the signing of the Red Fort Declaration for Strategic Partnership between India and South Africa. The Declaration was signed in March 1997 by the Prime Minister of India Shri Deva Gowda and President of South Africa Nelson Mandela in New Delhi.

Since 1993, the relationship is going from strength to strength. We engage bilaterally, as well as multilaterally through for a like BRICS, IBSA (India-Brazil-South Africa), IOR (Indian Ocean Rim) Association, etc.

India@70 would not be without the colossus of a man called Mahatma Gandhi. As we mark 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi on 2nd October, we have plans to celebrate it over two years, starting 2nd October this year. Most of you would have watched the video on ‘Vaishnav Jana to TeneKahiye’ where artists from over 124 countries contributed musically in paying homage to Mahatma Gandhi through his favourite devotional song.

I would like to end my talk on India@70 with a quote from Gandhi:

“Carefully watch your thoughts, for they become your words. Manage and watch your words, for they will become your actions. Consider and judge your actions, for they have become your habits. Acknowledge and watch your habits, for they shall become your values. Understand and embrace your values, for they become your destiny.”

India is driven by its values and thus destined for greatness.

Thank you, ladies and gentlemen.