An “emotional” Ashwani Lohani on Thursday took charge as the chairman of the Railway Board, a day after incumbent Ashok Mittal resigned from the post following allegations of negligence by the railways leading to a spate of accidents in recent times.
“It is a very emotional moment for me… safety and ending corruption in the railways would be my priority,” Lohani told reporters soon after taking office.
The Appointments Committee of the Cabinet had on Wednesday approved the appointment of Lohani, then chairman & managing director of Air India, as the chairman of the Railway Board.
Some officials, however, questioned Lohani’s appointment and alleged bypassing of rules. A railway board member has to serve as a divisional railway manager (DRM) and general manager of a zone to be eligible for the post. A 1980-batch railway officer, Lohani had been DRM in Delhi but he had not served as a general manager.
“Since he could not become a general manager, he moved to the Madhya Pradesh government,” said an official. His name had been in the reckoning for the chairman for some time, but Mittal had instead been given an extension until 2018.
After two back-to-back rail accidents in less than a week, while Mittal tendered his resignation on Wednesday, Union Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu “offered” to quit but was asked by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to “wait”.
The locomotive of the Delhi-bound Kaifiyat Express from Azamgarh had been hit by a dumper early Wednesday morning, causing a derailment of coaches near Auraiya in Uttar Pradesh and injury to several passengers. The collision also impacted train operations on the Delhi-Howrah route.
This was the second accident after at least 20 passengers had been killed and over 100 injured when 14 coaches of the Kalinga Utkal Express derailed near Muzzafarnagar in Uttar Pradesh on August 19.