Basant Rath created a buzz in the Valley soon after taking over as Inspector General of Traffic in February. He also became a social media sensation in J&K for his aggressive policing and enforcement of traffic laws on roads, sparing none. The 2000-batch IPS officer spoke to Kashmir Reader’s Senior Correspondent Manzoor-ul-Hassan about his style of working and his plans for Srinagar’s traffic mess.
Manzoor-ul-Hassan (MH): Some days ago I heard you say that you will bring a “big change” in the traffic mess of Srinagar. Can you explain what measures you are planning?
Basant Rath (BR): We’ll make accountable the bus, minibus and Sumo (taxi) operators. We will coordinate with other government agencies to clear roads and footpaths of encroachments. I’ve spoken with the Divisional Commissioner Kashmir and the IGP Kashmir. We are on the same page. We’ll make daily commuting easy for school and college students. We’ll ensure that female passengers don’t face the usual daily hassles that have been a major concern for them and for their families. I’ll make our traffic cops accountable for their conduct. Integrity matters to me. I’ll make it matter to them as well. I won’t wait for technological up gradation and extra personnel to bring change on roads. Specific measures are too many to discuss here.
MH: Corruption is seen as the main cause of the traffic mess and violations in Jammu & Kashmir. Especially the drivers plying on highways have been always complaining about paying bribes. Can you comment?
BR: I’m accountable. We are accountable. Corruption among traffic cops will be a thing of the past. All the cops who have worked in the traffic wing will be transferred out. By the way, you must verify independently the extent to which things have improved after my arrival on the scene. The government has entrusted me with this responsibility and I can’t afford to let down my police chief.
MH: Illegal vendors and roadside parking impede the traffic flow in Srinagar. Have would you deal with this problem?
BR: They’ll have to go back to areas specifically earmarked for them. The SMC (Srinagar Municipal Corporation) and other agencies will be taken into confidence in the process.
MH: VIP culture is another big issue, which hampers traffic management in Kashmir. Any plans to end this culture?
BR: Beyond the constraints of our security concerns, the VIP culture won’t be allowed to meddle with smooth traffic flow on our roads. I have done it in Jammu, I’ll do it here as well.
MH: Once I heard you say that Kashmir will be your focus area more than Jammu. What is the reason for that?
BR: It’s simple. Kashmir gets more tourists than Jammu. Decades of terrorism have taken a toll on the way people drive on Kashmir’s roads. It has a bearing on the extent of encroachment on footpaths and roads. Srinagar is a case in point. We need to fix this as soon as possible.
MH: Since decades, auto rickshaws in Srinagar are plying without fare meters in violation of the law. No action has been taken against them. Would we see any action on it?
BR: Please give me some time. Meters will be in operation. Autorickshaw operators don’t have a choice.
MH: So far, no action has been taken against overcrowded passenger buses and their halting at will. Any plans on curbing it?
BR: Overcrowding is a major problem in Srinagar and in the rural areas. I have a game plan and I’ll execute it. Please be patient with me.
MH: While bringing reforms, have you felt any kind of political or bureaucratic pressure?
I have a reputation to protect and a lack of reputation to preserve. Pressure is a non-issue for me. I’m too old now to worry about this.
MH: People call you ‘Singham’ for your style of work. How do you react to that?
BR: I can’t help it. By the way, I don’t like Bollywood nicknames. My name is Basant. I do what I do. Javed Miandad is my favourite cricketer. Not an inch given, not an inch asked for. You’ll see a lot of him in my way of doing things.
MH: How did you think of your Twitter account name, ‘KangriCarrier’?
BR: I must thank Saqib Mujtaba, my friend, for this. One winter afternoon, sitting in my study in Hyderpora, we came up with a couple of suggestions. He made me stick to one of them. I’m glad that I listened to him. In fact, I’m grateful. He is a fine human being and writes better than me.
MH: Your higher-ups have asked you to behave and wear the uniform while on duty, but you seem to ignore their orders. Any specific reason?
BR: The cat must catch mice. Let’s not lose sleep over the cat’s colour. My strategic thinking owes a lot to my being a foot soldier. I don’t want to commit the mistakes most in the IPS commit as a matter of reflex action.