The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Will Calcutta follow Kiev ' sack the cops to stem the graft'

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko has sacked all 23,000 officers of his traffic police force.

What's Calcutta, with 26,000 traffic cops, got to do with it' Plenty, if you get to the reason why.

The officers, said the President, long infamous for bribe-taking, had 'discredited themselves' and 'tortured' motorists.

Sounds familiar' There are more traffic ties that bind Kiev and Calcutta.

'I warned three times ' if DAI (state vehicle inspection) officers keep hiding in bushes (to catch speeding cars) and do nothing else, they will no longer exist. That is why I've decided there will be no DAI in Ukraine as of today,' said Yushchenko, according to The Times, London.

Motorists in Ukraine for whom the traffic police have long been the most visible symbol of official corruption, can now drive easy.

But Calcuttans can only wonder what it would be like to drive around without the most visible symbol of traffic policing in the city ' the outstretched palm, not to halt traffic but for it to be greased.

'Contrary to what has happened in Ukraine, it would be a disaster if we attempted to do the same thing here,' police commissioner Prasun Mukherjee told Metro on Wednesday.

'By and large, the Calcutta Police is a disciplined lot. They work hard under adverse circumstances' I see very little reason in sacking all the policemen in one particular department because some of them are corrupt. We have to realise that there are some bad eggs everywhere.'

In Ukraine, the 'bad eggs' are said to spend most of the day pulling over cars and demanding fines or bribes for real or imaginary driving offences. Ukrainians often joke that DAI sounds like the Russian word dai, meaning 'give'.

The Calcutta commuter sure knows a thing or three about having to 'give' to uniformed goons on the streets, from dusk to dawn.

From trucks to two-wheelers, no vehicle is spared police harassment, from the Bypass to Bally bridge.

Hiding behind bushes may not be the thing for Calcutta Police ' where are the bushes' ' but then extortion tactics range from setting up barricades on the Bypass to hiding behind pillars to snare vehicles on some pretext or the other. And the preferred tactic is not to book them but to strike a deal.

The argument of the 'bad eggs' is often the same, from Kiev to Calcutta. In the Ukrainian capital, police officers are known to grumble about being 'forced to take bribes' to top up meagre salaries.

It's no different in the Bengal capital. 'I get a gross salary of Rs 5,000 a month and take home even less,' complained a constable newly inducted into the force. 'How can one run a family, including expenses for one's children's education, on a salary as paltry as this in a metro'

A traffic sergeant is slightly better off, with a starting salary of around Rs 8,000 per month, but the plight of the home guard is quite pathetic, with a daily wage bill of Rs 130.

'If need is the reason for corruption at the lowest level, it transforms into greed once the money trail creeps up,' observed a retired police officer.

But the city's top cop backs his force all the way.

'It's a real nightmare for police to keep the traffic moving here, because of processions and all. If, on top of all this, policemen are sacked en masse for the fault of only a handful, it would demoralise the entire force,' said commissioner Mukherjee.

Javed Shamim, deputy commissioner of traffic department, dismissed the Ukraine action as 'a recipe for disaster'.

'Where would they find so many trained personnel overnight' And in the interim period, what happens to the traffic'

But what about corruption charges against his force'

'In Calcutta, by and large, we have honest officers and whenever we receive complaints of corruption against any official, we investigate the case and if proved correct, stern action is taken against him,' insisted Shamim.

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