NEW DELHI: After three train accidents in 10 days, Suresh Prabhu offered to quit. Prime Minister Modi asked him to wait. Now, Piyush Goyal as the Minister for Railways has a tough task at hand.
Suresh Prabhu was made the Railway Minister by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the first reshuffle of the Cabinet in November 2014. PM Modi expected him to turn around the Railways. There were talks about high-speed trains, safety, high quality services in trains and a world quality operation of the Railways.
More than two-and-a-half years later, on August 4 this year, Suresh Prabhu informed the Rajya Sabha that 333 people lost their lives in the last three years in 206 train derailments. Fifteen days later, on August 19, another train derailed in western Uttar Pradesh (Kalinga Utkal Express) killing 22 more.
In fact, three train accidents happened in a space of 10 days. On August 23, the Delhi-bound Kaifiyat Express derailed in Uttar Pradesh’s Auraiya district. More than 80 people were injured in the mishap. On August 29, another train (Nagpur-Mumbai Duronto Express) derailed at Kalyan in Maharashtra. Several people were injured. However no casualty reported.
Suresh Prabhu took moral responsibility and offered his resignation in a meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who asked him to wait for few more days. It had, by then, become clear that Suresh Prabhu will move out of the Railways. After the Cabinet reshuffle today, Piyush Goyal got the Railways portfolio, a promotion for him.
The state of Railways makes Piyush Goyal’s job unenviable. The Railways have been a troublesome portfolio for the ministers. Of the 39 Railway ministers till date, only Jagjivan Ram (father of Meira Kumar) and Lalu Prasad Yadav have completed their full tenure of five years.
Very few Railways ministers have survived a major train accident. The list of casualties includes Lal Bahadur Shastri, who resigned after Ariyalur train accident in Tamil Nadu, where 142 people died in 1956 mishap.
BJP’s new-old ally Nitish Kumar had to resign following a train accident in Assam where nearly 300 people were killed in 1999. Nitish Kumar’s successor, Mamata Banerjee tendered resignation after twin train accidents in 2000.
Now, Suresh Prabhu has been shifted or demoted after three train accidents in 10 days.
Piyush Goyal takes over the Railways on the basis of his performance in the power ministry, where he turned out to be a strict task master. But, the Railways, being the largest job provider under the government, may need a different handling as its problems are different from the energy sector.
In a recent survey conducted by the citizen’s engagement platform LocalCircles, which has a tie-up with the consumer affairs department in the area of public grievances, people expressed concerns about safety, fares and quality of services offered by the Railways.