A doer of 'strange activities'

Glare back on officer who shoots from lip

By MUZAFFAR RAINA in Srinagar
  • Published 25.02.18
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Basant Rath shakes hands with a girl in Jammu

Srinagar: A character "seen moving in civvies" and "doing strange activities" is tormenting the high and mighty and has become a potential threat to "property like cellphones, helmets, spectacles and vehicles" in Jammu.

Before fingers are pointed at the usual suspects, be warned that the subject is entitled to wear a uniform and he has just been promoted as inspector-general of police in charge of traffic in Jammu and Kashmir.

IGP Basant Rath, an IPS officer from Odisha who was elevated a fortnight ago, has been living up to his reputation of ruffling feathers in high places. Hardly a day has passed without controversy since Rath, 45, took charge as IGP in Jammu, where he will be stationed during the summer. He has been cracking down hard on alleged traffic rule violators, some who happen to be VIPs.

So much so that his boss, director-general of police S.P. Vaid, thought it prudent to pen a letter to Rath and use language a little more colourful than the bone-dry officialese usually associated with formal correspondence. But the DGP's prose pales in comparison to Rath's traffic-stopping, so to speak, turns of the phrase.

Vaid wrote in the letter to Rath earlier this week: "A number of videos, posts and pictures are being circulated on social media, in which you are seen moving in civvies on the roads, 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 DGP's letter added: "You are hereby advised and warned to refrain from such acts in future. You shall always remain in proper uniform while discharging official duties as mandated in law and police rules. Any violation to these directions shall be viewed seriously and action under law shall be initiated against you."

The flashpoint appears to be Raths' move to seize a luxury car of an influential person whose father and father-in-law are IGP-rank police officers, for allegedly violating traffic rules in Jammu. Both sides have slapped complaints against each other with the police.

Rath has accused the VIP of almost ramming his car into that of the officer.

"I asked him politely to give his paper to the traffic cops. Instead of listening to my genuine request, he misbehaved with me and tried to drop names (his father and father-in law) and tried to create a scene," Rath said in his complaint.

Asked about the DGP's letter, Rath told The Telegraph on Saturday in his signature style: "Forget about the letter. I won't discuss the colour of my favourite brand of chocolate with the media at this time."

Such circumspection does not come easily to the officer who has won applause from some azadi supporters for his willingness to act without fear or favour.

For instance, Rath had cautioned his colleagues, too, 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 (personal security officers) 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.

Another post provoked a Congress MLA to seek action against Rath, which explained the significance of headgear thus: "Using helmets while driving was like using condoms as both were meant for protection."

Some have come to his defence, though. "Indian police officer Basant Rath admonished for displaying people friendly behaviour in J&K. Criminals will be defended and promoted by the Indian state and officer with down to earth approach will be demoralised," read a Facebook post of a pro- azadi activist.

Rath is no stranger to controversy. In the past, the Union home ministry had asked the Mehbooba Mufti government to take disciplinary action against him for allegedly violating the service rules. Rath has frequently hit out at communal forces in articles in newspapers and websites.

A CID report had claimed that his social media activity was bringing a bad name to the police force.

Not only was no action taken against him but he was promoted.