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2-min read

Shakeup in Railways: Minister to Board Chief to Lineman, All in Line of Fire

Mittal was appointed Chairman of the Railway Board in 2014, and was given a two-year extension in 2016. But never in the history of the Railways have both the Minister’s and the Chairman’s jobs looked as precarious as this day.

Tushar Dhara | News18.com

Updated:August 23, 2017, 8:03 PM IST
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Suresh Prabhu
File image of civil aviation minister Suresh Prabhu. (Image: PTI)

New Delhi: Two accidents in less than one week led to one of the biggest shakeups in the Railways Ministry. Ashok Mittal, Chairman of the Railway Board, has already tendered his resignation and Minister Suresh Prabhu has offered to resign.

Further, three top officials were sent on leave, four local-level officials were suspended after the department found lapses in maintenance work that led to the major derailment on Saturday.

On Wednesday, the Centre appointed Air India CMD, Ashwani Lohani, as Railway Board Chairman.

When was the last time that the Railways saw such turbulence? For that, you have to go back all the way to 1956 when Lal Bahadur Shastri, the then Railway Minister, resigned after taking moral responsibility for a train accident in Tamil Nadu which caused 150 deaths.

Again, in 1999, when Nitish Kumar resigned over an accident which claimed over 200 lives. But Nitish was back as the Rail Minister in 2001 and by this day, Kumar’s tales of flip flops are legendary.

Mamata Banerjee had also offered to resign in 2000 after two train disasters, but her offer was rejected by then Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee.

Mittal was appointed Chairman of the Railway Board in 2014, and was given a two-year extension in 2016. But never in the history of the Railways have both the Minister’s and the Chairman’s jobs looked as precarious as this day.

The reasons are not difficult to understand. Two major train accidents in less than seven days put a major dent in the reputation of the Indian Railways and Suresh Prabhu.

The Utkal Express derailed near Khatauli in UP’s Muaffarnagar district on August 19, leading to at least six deaths. The report on the Utkal Express derailment wasn’t even out when another major rail accident happened.

At 2.50 am on the intervening night of Monday and Tuesday, the Azamgarh-Delhi Kaifiyat Express hit a dumper on the tracks, leading to ten bogies getting derailed. Around 74 passengers were injured, including four seriously.

There have been over 20 rail accidents, including minor ones, since November 2014, when Prabhu took office. The total count of “consequential accidents” since 2014-15 stands at 346 accidents. In at least nine of these cases, casualties were reported.

As a consequence, the government has moved quickly to reassure people that it intends to bring things under control. On Wednesday, in a big shakeup, Ashwani Lohani, the former head of Air India, was appointed to the top bureaucratic job in the Railways. He brings with him a reputation for efficiency.

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| Edited by: Sanchari Chatterjee
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