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Railway minister offers to quit over spate of accidents

NEW DELHI

With heads rolling in the railways after two train accidents in five days, the government on Wednesday replaced its board chairman AK Mittal with Air India chief Ashwani Lohani even as Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu offered to quit on moral grounds. Prime Minister Narendra Modi asked Prabhu to “wait”.

Mittal, who had over a year to go as the chairman, resigned apparently after being asked to in the wake of Saturday’s Kalinga Utkal Express accident that was blamed on staff negligence and which claimed 22 lives.

Earlier, Prabhu met the prime minister “taking full responsibility” for the state of affairs of railways. “PM has asked me to wait,” he tweeted.

Though Prabhu did not specifically mention in his tweets that he had offered to resign, there was intense speculation he may have offered to resign considering the language of his tweets.

“I am extremely pained by the unfortunate accidents, injuries to passengers and loss of precious lives. It has caused me deep anguish,” the minister said.

“New India envisioned by the prime minister deserves a railways which is efficient and modern. I promise that is the path, on which railways is progressing now.”

Prabhu said he had tried to overcome “decades of neglect through systemic reforms in all areas leading to unprecedented investment and milestones”.

Meanwhile, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said that accountability is a good system in the government and Prime Minister Narendra Modi will take a decision on the request made by Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu.

Not satisfied with his offer, the Congress attacked Prabhu’s record as railway minister and asked Modi to sack him. “Railway ministry has failed to provide managerial leadership. Prabhu failed to provide leadership, roadmap or vision to railways,” Congress spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala said.

The Congress said in the past three years, 28 accidents had taken place, leaving 259 people dead and 973 injured.

On Saturday, the Kalinga Utkal Express derailed in Muzaffarnagar district leaving 22 people dead. Even as the railways cracked down on errant officials and staff, the Kaifiyat Express derailed in Auraiya district on Wednesday injuring 74 people. Both accidents took place in Uttar Pradesh.

The incident took place when the New Delhi-bound train from Azamgarh in Uttar Pradesh hit a dumper which had overturned on the rail tracks between Achalda and Pata stations around 2.40am, a railway official said.

Four of the passengers suffered serious head injuries and were rushed to a hospital in Etawah, police said. They remained in critical condition till evening.

The dumper was ferrying sand for a dedicated railway freight corridor running parallel to the track, Inspector-General of Police (Kanpur Zone) Alok Singh said. But officials in Delhi disputed this version.

“The train hit an unknown dumper. The dumper does not belong to the Dedicated Freight Corridor Corp of India Ltd or its contractor,” its deputy general manager Rajesh Khare said.

Besides the engine, 12 coaches of the train ran off the tracks, including five air-conditioned coaches, two sleeper coaches, four general class coaches and a seating-cum-luggage rake.

One of the coaches overturned because of the impact of the crash.

Agencies