Photograph: PTI Photo
Taking 'full moral responsibility' for the recent train accidents, Railways Minister Suresh Prabhu on Wednesday indicated he had offered to resign in a meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The minister met the prime minister after a meeting of the cabinet and left the city soon after, his staff told PTI.
'I met the Hon'ble Prime Minister @narendramodi taking full moral responsibility,' Prabhu said in a tweet.
The prime minister, he added, had asked him to wait.
"Accountability is good system in government. The PM will take a decision on whatever request the rail minister has made," Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley told reporters after the cabinet briefing when asked about Prabhu's tweets.
Prabhu, under pressure from the Opposition to resign, said in a series of emotional tweets that he was 'extremely pained' by the two derailments in Uttar Pradesh on August 19 and on Wednesday.
"In less than three years as minister, I have devoted my blood and sweat for the betterment of the Railways. Under leadership of PM, tried to overcome decades of neglect through systemic reforms in all areas leading to unprecedented investment and milestones," he said.
"New India envisioned by PM deserves a Railways which is efficient and modern. I promise that is the path, on which Rlys is progressing now. I am extremely pained by the unfortunate accidents, injuries to passengers and loss of precious lives. It has caused me deep anguish."
On August 19, 13 coaches of the Kalinga Utkal Express derailed in Khatauli, Uttar Pradesh, killing over 20 passengers and injuring over 150.
On Wednesday, four days later, at least 70 people were injured when the Kaifiyat Express derailed in Auraiya in the state.
Later in the day, a train collided with a lorry at an unmanned rail crossing in Villupuram, Tamil Nadu. Railway officials in Delhi described it as a 'minor incident'.
Prabhu, who through this week gave out information on the Utkal Express derailment and the restoration work through his official Twitter handle, had earlier taken action against eight officials, including a member of the Railway Board for the incident.
Soon after Prabhu's tweet about meeting the prime minister, the government announced the appointment of Air India CMD Ashwani Lohani as chairman of the Railway Board.
According to sources, Lohani takes over from A K Mital, who had submitted his resignation to the minister on Tuesday evening.
The resignation was accepted on Wednesday morning.
PM must sack Prabhu and appoint responsible person: Congress
The Congress. meanwhile, accused Prabhu of having 'utterly failed' in his job and asked the PM to sack him and appoint a 'responsible person' in the position.
This 'responsibility business' would not do, Congress chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said while stressing that Prabhu had to resign.
He also urged the prime minister to appoint a responsible person in his place and draw a safety map for the railways.
"This responsibility business will not do. Either prime minister should sack the railways minister or he should accept his resignation. It is time for the prime minister to come forward and lay down a roadmap of safety for the railways," the Congress leader told reporters.
"The railways minister has utterly failed. We had demanded his resignation. Railways Minister Suresh Prabhu has today said, again on Twitter instead of coming forward and facing the media, that he takes responsibility," he said.
This, he said, was not acceptable.
"First sack the railways minister. Appoint a responsible person in his position. Come forward Mr Prime Minister, lay down a railways safety map. Lay down your vision for the railways to be implemented in the next one year," he said.
The Congress leader also asked the prime minister to allocate money for rail safety measures, fill up 1.42 lakh vacant posts in the railways and ensure the safety of millions of passengers.
He said 28 major train accidents, killing 259 people had injuring 973, had taken place since the Modi government took office. The death toll from derailments in 2016-17 was the highest it had been in a decade.
Surjewala added that 40 per cent of 1,219 'line sections' of the Indian Railways were congested beyond 100 per cent capacity.
On 247 high density line sections, the congestion rate was even higher.
Stepping up the party's attack against Prabhu, Congress spokesperson Manish Tewari added that Prabhu should step down from his post if he had an 'iota of morality' left in him after two derailments in five days.
"Asking" Railway Board Chairman A K Mital to step down was the "worst kind of tokenism", he added.