Air India chief takes over as new Railway Board head

New Delhi: Air India chief Ashwani Lohani was today appointed chairman of the Railway Board, after incumbent A K Mital resigned following two recent train accidents, officials said.

The announcement by the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet came hours after Union Railways Minister Suresh Prabhu indicated he had offered his resignation to Prime Minister Narendra Modi following the accidents.

“Necessary communication in this regard has been sent to the Ministry of Railways,” the appointments committee said.

It is not yet clear who will replace Logani as Air India’s chairman and managing director.

An officer of the railway mechanical service who had earlier served as the divisional regional manager in Delhi, Lohani was also the India Tourism Development Corporation chairman and headed the Rail Museum in the Capital.

Mital, a 1976-batch officer of the Indian Railway Stores Service, submitted his resignation to Prabhu last evening and it was accepted this morning by the minister, officials said.

Two days before he retired in 2016, Mital, said to be close to Prabhu, was given a two-year extension. He was scheduled to retire in 2018 and would have been the longest serving chairman of the Railway Board if he had continued.

Senior railway officials said Mital was not happy that senior officials of the ministry had to face the brunt of the outfall of the Utkal Express derailment. A day after the accident, Prabhu had sent three senior officials, including a member of the Board, on leave.

Mital, who previously headed three major railway zones Southern Railway, South Central Railway and Central Railway as general manager — felt the action against the officials “affected the morale of the seniors”.

Ministry sources said there was “high drama” after Mital’s resignation, with board members requesting him to reconsider his decision.

They said some senior officers approached Prabhu, who said the matter no longer concerned his ministry alone.

Sources also said the PM had a meeting with Prabhu and senior rail officials yesterday afternoon, when he made it clear that seniors would be held responsible for such lapses.

Prabhu was also asked to toughen his approach towards bureaucrats, the source said.

They added that three other people were in contention for the post of the board chairman. They were Ghanshyam Singh, (Member, Traction), Mohd Jamshed (Member, Traffic) and Ravindra Gupta (Member, Rolling Stock).

However, it was Lohani who was finally chosen for the post.

Around 100 passengers were injured as ten bogies of the Kaifiyat Express derailed in the Auraiya district of Uttar Pradesh early today, four days after 13 coaches of the Utkal Express went off the rails near Khatauli in UP, killing 22 people and injuring 156.

In the last five years, nearly 53 per cent of the 586 train accidents have been caused by derailments. The worst such accident occurred in November 2016 when 150 passengers were killed when the Indore-Patna Express derailed near Kanpur.