Since taking charge, the IPS officer has won many fans, and also been warned by the DGP for his unconventional approach & ‘strange activities’.
Jammu: His unusual style of policing is winning over fans and attracting controversies. But Jammu and Kashmir’s new traffic-in-charge Basant Rath is unfazed.
The 2000 batch IPS officer is just over two weeks old in his new position, but has set an ambitious deadline of 90 days to reform the state’s traffic mess. He has asked people to have patience and trust his “game plan”.
He has thus been non-compromising on traffic violators. His victims range from overloaded matadors to senior cops commuting in vehicles without number plates and VIPs violating traffic rules. He has been tagged as rude and abrasive, but effective, too.
“I’m also obsessed with traffic violations, but I’m also obsessed with noise pollution,” he said in a conversation with ThePrint.
Recently he was issued a warning by the J&K Director-General of Police for “moving in civvies on the roads” and “doing strange activities unwarranted of a police officer”.
“Other videos uploaded by some commuters allege manhandling, using of abusive language, and damage to their property like cellphones, helmets, spectacles and vehicles,” the warning letter stated, asking him to mend his ways or face action under law.
But, discussing his “maverick” approach, Rath says: “I am convinced that conventional ways of policing are neither enough to curb corruption, nor effective in tackling incompetence in the traffic police.”
Rath’s ‘irregular’ style
Rath makes it a point to not to stick to one vehicle when he goes about conducting random checks around Jammu. It could be anywhere from 10-15 different vehicles a week, including private ones that offer him lifts to his destination.
The idea, he says, is to ensure that traffic offenders do not predict his movement. For this reason, he doesn’t take personal security officers with him, and believes in spying on his own men.
He has a group in place — including everyone from students to hawkers — who keep sending him messages, pictures and videos to update about different instances of traffic violations.
And then he posts directives through controversial posts on social media. For one of his posts, where he drew a parallel between condoms and helmets and their use for protection, Congress legislator Usman Majeed called him a “case for psychiatric treatment”.
“I’m still proud of that post,” Rath says, adding that he can manipulate his sense of humour to create a positive change.
Asked about his multiple videos that went viral on social media, he says: “Anybody can shoot and upload it. I have always urged people to steer clear of me when I’m working the roads.”
More challans than ever
Rath says action against traffic violators of Jammu has gone up in the last two weeks, since he took over. Each officer now issues an average of 40 violation tickets or ‘challans’ every day.
It is, however, his move of challaning VIPs and VIP escort vehicles around the secretariat that is more likely to have ruffled feathers and earned him the wrath of the power corridors.
A recent case was his decision to seize a luxury car for alleged traffic violations — it belonged to a person whose father and father-in-law are IGP-rank police officers. Both Rath and the person filed complaints against each other.
But the decision to act against VIP traffic offenders has earned him immense local support as people feel that if he can take on VIPs, he can do anything.
The nonchalant Rath reiterates that the only VIP for him is an ambulance.
“Only Jammu is feeling the change right now; I want the entire state to feel it,” he says.
The man behind the cop
Rath, who comes from a poor family in Odisha, says his mother sacrificed a lot, including her meals, to make him what he is today.
An alumnus of the Jawaharlal Nehru University, he has written several articles critical of the government. Earlier, the Union Home Ministry had cited a report, seeking action against him for violating service rules. The Mehbooba Mufti-led PDP-BJP government in the state, instead, elevated him.
Polish poet Maria Wislava is Rath’s favourite; he also admires Pakistan’s Javed Miandad in cricket, and the Sufi music of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.
When it comes to work, Rath says he does not have friends, but is extremely fond of J&K DGP S.P. Vaid, Jammu IGP S.D.S. Jamwal and IGP Kashmir Range S.P. Pani.
Talking about working through controversies surrounding him, Rath thinks being hated and misunderstood only helps his cause.
“It gives me free publicity. Then it saves my time as they avoid coming my way. It also gets me more love from those hating people who hate me,” he laughs.
“It also makes me a good story.”