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Basant Rath, unorthodox cop & darling of J&K’s netizens, shunted out after spat with mayor

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IG (Traffic) Basant Rath called new Srinagar mayor Junaid Azim Mattu a ‘cabbage’ on Twitter, and was soon transferred by the J&K governor.

New Delhi: What started as a surprise tweet by former Jammu and Kashmir DGP S.P. Vaid Monday turned out to be true a day later: The state’s popular Inspector General (Traffic), Basant Rath, has been shunted out, in a move that is being seen as punishment for a social media spat with the new mayor of Srinagar, Junaid Azim Mattu.

Vaid, who was also unceremoniously transferred out of his position and made transport commissioner a few months ago, had pulled up Rath for his unorthodox methods when he was still DGP in February. However, he tweeted Monday:

Then came confirmation Tuesday that Rath had been transferred to the office of IG, Home Guards, a relatively nondescript post compared to his previous posting. This triggered strong criticism from netizens, many of whom had taken to Rath for his “different” style of functioning and his regular tiffs with the high and mighty, including his own seniors.

Rath was among the few officers who could roam around in the Valley without the security cover that is ubiquitous around senior government functionaries. When not busy personally directing traffic movement in downtown Srinagar or Jammu, Rath could often be seen playing cricket with youngsters in Srinagar or getting videos and selfies shot with fawning citizens.

Also read: ‘They give me free publicity’: J&K traffic chief Basant Rath undeterred by controversies

Larger than life

An alumnus of Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University, IPS officer Rath gained popularity, as well as some notoriety, for his unorthodox style.

His habit of moving around in civilian clothes (or ‘civvies’) and performing “strange” activities like singing in public earned him a large number of fans in a short span.

But, he remained uncompromising with traffic violators. Be it overloaded vans, senior cops commuting in vehicles without number plates, or VIPs violating traffic rules, he would make sure no one got away with violations. There were murmurs that he was making himself look good by making the department look bad.

“I am convinced that conventional ways of policing are neither enough to curb corruption, nor effective in tackling incompetence in the traffic police,” Rath had told ThePrint in an earlier interview.

His directives, often issued through posts on social media, also attracted controversy.

In one of his posts, Rath drew a parallel between condoms and helmets for their use as “protection”. Congress leader Usman Majeed called him a “case for psychiatric treatment”.

Also read: J&K transport dept takes to Twitter to unclog Jammu and Srinagar roads

Spat with Mattu

Last week, Mattu tweeted that he had sought a review of traffic plans, in view of its “mismanagement” in Srinagar city.

“Have received numerous complaints about traffic mismanagement issues in the city. I have spoken to the SP Traffic (Urban) and sought a review of current traffic diversions and plans. The SMC has been directed to help with decongestion of alternate routes for some relief,” Mattu had tweeted.

Rath immediately responded, pointing out that traffic management was “not the domain” of the mayor.

“He had issued orders to my SP and I have to protect my officers. It was not his business, and we know our job,” Rath told ThePrint.

The spat escalated after Rath took another jibe.

“Wetlands are precious and a vital part of our ecosystem. Only a cabbage will think otherwise,” Rath wrote, within hours of the mayor’s statement about wetlands in his maiden press conference.

This comparison seems to have riled up the mayor, who then reportedly complained officially to state governor Satya Pal Malik, under whom the administration has been functioning since June. The governor decided to transfer Rath Tuesday.

Senior PDP leader and former minister Naeem Akhtar criticised the governor for this decision.

“Governor administration shows itself in very poor light by transferring Basant Rath @KangriCarrier in a manner that makes it look like a punishment. The reason is not far to seek if the public sentiment and general comments are an indicator. We live in insecure times,” he tweeted.

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