Off Marine House, Hastings, June 17, noon.
A sergeant stands guard. On his instruction, constables halt every goods vehicle passing by. Not to book them for being at the wrong place at the wrong time, but to extort a bribe.
The normal practice: stick out a palm towards the driver's cabin ' truck or Matador ' not to shake a hand or to direct traffic, but for hafta.
Desperately seeking cash ' and coins ' the constables don't think twice before courting disaster on wheels by running in front of rolling trucks reluctant to stop and pay up.
If any driver acts tough, he is directed to the sergeant ' overseeing proceedings from the relative comfort of a tree shade ' who turns the screws. What could have cost the truck driver as little as Rs 10 if he had toed the constable's line, multiplies when the sergeant gets into the extortion act.
'They are here once a week. Even if we produce all proper documents, they will make us pay up. I just paid Rs 250,' alleged a truck driver.
One daring driver (truck no. WB-03 A-8285) tried to dodge the demanding cops, but the sergeant chased the vehicle on his motorcycle and forced him to a halt.'We pay a monthly sum to police. They have given us a card (saying: MEMBER). Why should I pay them all over again' demanded the driver.
Corruption on the cards
Yes, some traffic police checkpoints have actually introduced a 'card' system to institutionalise bribe-taking. Each month, lorry owners or drivers receive a card after shelling out a fixed sum of money.
'This is much easier for us, as we don't have to pay up at every point. We can just show our cards and drive away,' said a truck driver, flaunting his 'corruption' card.
The rate differs from checkpoint to checkpoint ' Rs 500 to Rs 5,000 per month for free passage. 'The card system has made money-collection easier for the policemen, too,' added the truck driver.
But often, the 'member' tag is not enough to dodge the pay-up checkpost.
Like on Saturday, a convenient 'communication gap' between the monthly money-makers and the weekly bribe earners meant a double whammy for 'member' drivers ' pay monthly and weekly.
Division of labour loot
Within an hour, the pockets of the policemen 'on duty' were bulging.
Where does all the loot go' According to a senior officer with traffic police, the system of bribery is meticulously organised and diligently executed. Officers of each traffic guard regularly conduct joint raids with the local police station. After a hard day's work, everyone from top to bottom gets a share.
'The joint raid is conducted twice a week and the collection is between Rs 4,000 and 5,000 on a given day. The total loot goes to a particular traffic guard office and is later distributed. Sixty per cent is taken by the officer-in-charge and the traffic sergeant, while the rest is divided among the constables who do the legwork,' said the officer, who was recently transferred from a traffic guard to Lalbazar.
Jawed Shamim, deputy commissioner (traffic), told Metro: 'Yes, I'm aware of such joint raids conducted by the traffic police and the local thana. But I'm not aware that bribes are taken. If we find that such a thing is happening, we shall take stringent action against the policemen involved.'