Jammu: Less than a fortnight into his new assignment, an IPS officer trying to manage traffic in Jammu is drawing applause and brickbats for his flamboyant work style.
Basant Rath took over as the Inspector General of Police (traffic) in Jammu on February 9. Since then, the 2000-batch IPS officer has been praised for his innovative ways to manage traffic and criticised for his outspoken behaviour on social media.
Rath’s videos and photographs while managing traffic at busy junctions in the winter capital has been a hit on the Internet. Some people have compared him to the wildly popular protagonists in Bollywood movies like ‘Singham’ and ‘Dabangg’.
Rath is not amused at the comparison though; he says his job is to streamline the movement of vehicles in Jammu.
The tech-savvy officer often uses social media to update residents and warn traffic violators to ensure safety on roads a challenge as 2,666 people died and 22,021 were injured in road accidents in the state in past three years until October 31, 2017.
Yesterday, slogans were raised in support of Rath at Bikram Chowk in the heart of Jammu city, when he fined and seized a police vehicle for plying without registration number plate.
The action came days after Rath warned policemen against violating traffic rules. “My dear seniors who think I’m all gas on Facebook and Twitter and no guts on streets. Please ask your PSOs to drive their bikes without wearing helmets. I’ll ruin their day. And yours. I don’t think I love you,” he had said in a post on social media.
Memes and jokes have been making rounds on social networking sites ever since Rath took over as IGP (traffic).
“Ab na toh fogg chal raha hai na hi jio Abhi toh bas Basant Rath ka khouf chal raha hai,” a netizen said on his Facebook page, apparently referring to a popular advertisement of a perfume brand.
Another user shared a short video clip in which a group of young people played a sketch portraying the officer to convey that he means business, irrespective of gender bias.
“Traffic rules are gender neutral,” Rath said, advising women riding on two-wheelers to wear helmets to avoid fine.
Within a week of assuming charge in Jammu, he made his intentions clear when he seized a luxury car of an Army officer, who happens to be the son and the son-in-law of serving IPS officers, for wrong driving in Gandhi Nagar area. Both sides have filed police complaints against each other.
Rath has been outspoken about his style and his comments have generated controversy. Recently, he had stated: “Using helmets while driving was like using condoms as both were meant for protection.”
Congress legislator Usman Majeed reacted sharply to the “indecent and insensitive post”, accusing the IPS officer of “acting like a goon” and demanded his immediate attachment.
Rath, without mentioning Majeed, responded saying: “I’m human and I’m in a hurry. I expect myself to commit mistakes. And I expect myself to learn my lessons as well. I promise I’ll improve Jammu’s traffic situation. And myself.” He has also faced criticism for his behaviour in public.
A lawyer, Nitin Bakshi, filed a complaint against Rath with Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti.
Bakhshi has alleged that Rath appears to be inspired by films like ‘Singham’ and ‘Dabangg’ and uses social networking sites to “exploit” people who he misbehaves with.
“If he sees any person without helmet or driving without belt, he starts abusing them and starts using violence against them, which is not permissible under the law,” Bakshi alleged in his complaint.
He said Rath is often in civvies and it becomes difficult to know if he is a policeman or a gangster terrorising people.
The officer, however, is also not interested in labels.
“Dear media guys, please keep this business of ‘Singham’ and ‘Dabangg’ to yourselves. I’m Basant. My Ma chose it for me,” he said.
“…I have a reputation to protect and a lack of reputation to preserve. Please give me three months. Mere twelve weeks. Just ninety days. I’ll make things happen. We’ll make things happen. I want Jammu and Srinagar to be India’s two best cities in terms of traffic management,” he said.
Rath said he does not need “best wishes” but cooperation.
“If you are caught violating traffic rules, please don’t try to browbeat traffic cops. Don’t try to waste their precious time. The traffic mess is too big and we don’t have too many traffic cops. I need your active cooperation. I’m asking for it. Because I know for a fact I deserve it. I deserve a chance. We deserve a chance,” he said.
Besides supervising traffic management, the officer has issued an advisory to private passenger vehicle owners and educational institutions, asking them to ensure strict compliance of traffic guidelines.
“Dear road users, we need to prove our humanity with or without a traffic cop,” he urged commuters, but warned those flouting laws, saying: “If you are rich enough to own a vehicle, you should be intelligent enough to know the traffic rules.”
“Dear politically well-connected interest groups, my name is Basant. I do what I do,” he said, adding that his work would speak for himself.
“And if I fail, I’ll tell you, in as many words and with as much clarity, that I’m a failure,” he said.
He has sought suggestions from people to improve traffic management.
Lauding his force, Rath said they are doing a great job despite shortage of manpower and told them that if they needed a transfer, “I am just a text away… Please keep politics and politicians out of this. Let’s play it straight.”
“I believe in strengthening institutions. I want good things to continue even when I’m no more in the traffic department…” he said.