SRINAGAR: The appointment of a ‘tainted’ officer as head of the state’s traffic police department, replacing the IPS officer Basant Rath following his public spat with the BJP-backed mayor of Srinagar, has created a storm in Kashmir Valley.

Rath, a 2000 cadre ‘Dabang’ IPS officer had won big support in Kashmir for going after the powerful, and for his unique methods of traffic management. He was moved to the ‘insignificant’ home guards department yesterday.

Many netizens linked the sudden transfer to his recent virtual spat with the newly elected Srinagar mayor Junaid Mattu.

“Alok Kumar, IPS (JK-1997), IGP Security, J&K is transferred and posted as IGP, Traffic, J&K vice Basant Kumar Rath. Basant Kumar Rath, IPS (JK-2000), IGP Traffic J&K is transferred and attached in the office of commandant General Home Guards/Civil Defence/SDRF till further orders,” reads an order issued by the government.

Basant Rath and Junaid Mattu had a heated exchange on Twitter over the latter’s remarks belittling the importance of wetlands in the eco-fragile Srinagar city where rampant construction and land mafia pose a grave threat post the 2014 devastating floods.

Underlining the importance of wetlands, Rath had written on Twitter that only “a cabbage will think otherwise”. The comment didn’t go down well with Junaid, who was elected as mayor of Srinagar with the backing of Peoples Conference and the BJP. Dismissing the jibe, Junaid said the IPS officer was “unwell”.

After the virtual spat, rumours started doing rounds on social media that the IPS officer may have to pay the price for touching the nerves of Mattu who was photographed with Ram Madhav of the BJP in Srinagar on the day of his election.

However, the Governor’s administration issued a formal order in this regard yesterday evening, attracting sharp criticism for shunting out a “honest, down to earth and hardworking” police officer and replacing him with Alok Kumar who has a tainted past.

A 1997 JK cadre IPS officer, Kumar was suspended by the Bihar government for allegedly demanding Rs 10 crore as extortion money from from a liquor trader during his stint as the Chhapra-headquartered DIG of Saran range.

Meanwhile, many people took to social media to express solidarity with Rath. “The reason you are being transferred is because of the love and respect you have earned in Kashmir. You are too scary for the establishment dost. They can’t deal with your popularity among ordinary folk,” Ashwin Kumar wrote on Facebook.

“This is the first time I am seeing such endorsement by Kashmiris for not only a cop but a non Kashmiri. You should be very proud. Wherever you go next you will carry the people with you,” Kumar, a Jammu resident, said in the post.

“Kashmiris are not against Police, as such. In fact, the world will be chaotic without this indispensable department. People would love them, if they just do policing-their real job, and not go out of their way to help Delhi’s repressive policies. People-friendly officers will always be honored,” Mehboob Makhdoomi,a Kashmir based in the UK, wrote on Facebook.