Taking moral responsibility after two major train accidents in five days, Rail Minister Suresh Prabhu has offered to resign. His offer to resign comes after resignation of Railway Board Chairman AK Mittal.
In first accident, 13 coaches of Haridwar bound Puri-Haridwar Kalinga Utkal Express derailed in Muzaffarnagar in Uttar Pradesh on August 19 killing over 20 with over 200 injured. Then this morning, in another major train derailment, 10 coaches of Delhi bound Kaifiyat Express derailed near Auraiya in Uttar Pradesh. Fortunately no one died in the accident which left over 20 injured.
Suresh Prabhu became India’s 43rd Rail Minister in November 2014 and according to the government data, over 330 people have lost their lives in 206 derailments in last three years.
If Prime Minister Narendra Modi accepts Suresh Prabhu’s resignation, it will only be the third time in the history of Indian Railways that a Rail Minister offered to resign taking moral responsibility of train accidents and his resignation was accepted.
When we chart the trajectory of Indian Railways since the first rail minister Asaf Ali, who was in-charge from September 2, 1947 to August 14, 1947, we find just two instances of rail ministers resigning on moral grounds after a major train accident.
The first one is the most quoted instance of politics of probity and integrity in public life. Then Rail Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri had resigned from his post taking moral responsibility of the Ariyalur train accident in Tamil Nadu in November 1956. About 142 people were killed in the accident.
Former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru had described Shastri as a man of highest integrity after his resignation. The act had seen Shastri’s popularity surging who later on took charge of other ministerial portfolios before becoming India’s Prime Minister.
Though train accidents didn’t stop after it, it took a long gap of 43 years for a rail minister to show such a courage in the aftermath of a train disaster.
Rail Minister Nitish Kumar resigned taking moral responsibility of the Gaisal train disaster in Assam in August 1999 that had killed at least 290 people. When Nitish’s offer to resign first came on August 3, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee initially rejected it but after Nitish persisted, he finally accepted it on August 5.
There are other two known instances when Rail Ministers offered to quit owning moral responsibility of train disasters but went on to stay in the office after their resignations were rejected.
A year after Nitish’s resignation, then Rail Minister Mamata Banerjee had also offered to resign from her post taking moral responsibility after two train disasters in 2000 but after Prime Minister Atal Bihari had Vajpayee rejected her resignation, she decided to stay back.
Over a decade before it, Rajiv Gandhi’s Rail Minister Madhavrao Scindia had offered to resign after a train disaster in Kerala in July 1988. Over 100 people lost their lives when nine coaches of Trivandrum bound Island Express fell into a river near Quilon. Scindia’s resignation was rejected and he remained in the office.