This Day in History (25-Nov-1956) – Lal Bahadur Shastri, resigns from Railway Minitery, taking moral responsibility for Ariyalur rail disaster setting a rare example for politicians

Lal Bahadur Shastri was appointed as the Railways and Transport Minister in the Central Cabinet in 1952. Shastriji strove hard to set right and regulate the railways. He succeeded in this to a large extent. There were four classes- first, second, intermediate and third in the railways then. First class compartments offered extreme luxury and were almost heavenly. But the discomfort of passengers in the third class compartments was beyond description. Shastriji reduced the vast disparity. The first class was abolished. The old second came to be known as the first class and the intermediate class as the second class. His idea was to have only two classes of compartments in course of time – the first and the second. It was he who provided more facilities to travelers in third class compartments. It was during his time that fans were provided in the third class compartments. He also worked hard to improve the administration of Railways and to eliminate thefts in the trains.

In 1956, 144 passengers died in an accident that took place near Ariyalur in Tamil Nadu. Just three months before this, an accident had occurred at Mehboob Nagar in which 112 people died. Shastriji was in no way directly responsible for these accidents. Yet he was very much pained. He felt he could not escape the moral responsibility for them. He had submitted his resignation letter to Pandit Nehru when the Mehboob Nagar accident took place. But Nehru had not accepted it. But when the Ariyalur accident took place Shastriji said, ‘I must do penance for this. Let me go.’ So strong was his sense of responsibility.

People used to call him the homeless Home Minister because he did not have a house of his own. He had rented a small house in Allahabad. Even when he was a minister, he used to stay in that house when he went to Allahabad. After a few days the owner of the house let it out to another family. When Shastriji resigned as minister he vacated the government quarters and he did not have a place to line in! Lal Bahadur Shastri was the first person to be posthumously awarded the Bharat Ratna, (India’s highest civilian award).


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