Taking “full moral responsibility” for the spate of train accidents under his watch, Railways Minister Suresh Prabhu met Prime Minister Narendra Modi Wednesday morning and offered to resign. He said he was asked by the Prime Minister to “wait”. But signalling the government’s intent for change in the leadership of the national transporter, Railway Board chairman A K Mittal was replaced Wednesday by Air India chief Ashwani Lohani. Sources said Mittal, whose term was to end July next year, had asked to be relieved of office Tuesday. Lohani will remain on the post until December 2018.
The developments came on the day when another train accident took place in Uttar Pradesh in the early hours. A dumper truck strayed into the path of the Delhi-bound Kaifiyat Express in Auraiya district, causing nine coaches to derail. At least 81 people were injured.
Suresh Prabhu, sources said, called up the Prime Minister around 7 am and offered to step down. Modi asked him to come for the Cabinet meeting scheduled for 10.30 am. While the Cabinet was briefed about the accident, Suresh Prabhu met Modi after the meeting and expressed his willingness to put in his papers.
“I met the Hon’ble Prime Minister @narendramodi taking full moral responsibility. Hon’ble PM has asked me to wait,” Suresh Prabhu tweeted at 2.40 pm. By then, the process to replace Mittal was already underway. Responding to queries from reporters after the Cabinet meeting, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said: “Accountability is a good system in government. PM will take a call on whatever request Suresh Prabhu has made to him.”
Whether the Prime Minister will stop at Lohani’s appointment or accept Suresh Prabhu’s resignation to bring in a new face will be clear if and when a Cabinet reshuffle does take place, sources said. Within an hour of Suresh Prabhu’s tweet, the BJP’s official IT cell started posting a series of tweets on “Myths vs Reality” to show that the railway safety performance under the NDA tenure was not worse off. In some areas of safety, the tweets said, the performance was better than before.
From the 1980 batch of the Indian Railway Service of Mechanical Engineers, Lohani’s appointment also signals that the government no longer believes that the present board can bring about the perceptible change in railways that it desires, top sources told The Indian Express.
The only Railway Board chairman not to have served as a zonal railway general manager, Lohani is called “turnaround man” in bureaucratic circles owing to his performance in India Tourism Development Corporation and Madhya Pradesh Tourism. While in Air India, Lohani advocated empowering and motivating existing employees to turn around the carrier.