By Muhammad Faheem
The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has recently instructed the Delhi Government to constitute a "high-powered committee" to go into the entire gamut of the hafta collections by police and civil functionaries. Hafta is a bribe collected once a week for permitting vendors and hawkers to carry on their business on Delhi roads.
The instruction came in response to a petition which alleged that an innocent vendor Matloob Hussain succumbed to ante mortem injuries he sustained in a torture room as he had failed to oblige the men-in-uniform by paying the hafta. Matloob was supporting a family of seven by selling fruits on a push-cart. His youngest son was only two-month old at that time.
His widow Zulekha's ordeal did not end with her husband's life. Her eldest son Shanu took his father's place. "They still harass us for money and even 10 days ago, they took away about five kilograms of mangoes from our cart," said Zulekha, referring to the local cops. As Zulekha recounts her saga, her husband Matloob used to pay 200 rupees per week for parking his fruit cart near the Durga Mandir. This was his regular practice for the past 14 years. But two years ago, he lost some money in the business and could not pay the hafta one week.
That was enough to provoke the cops, she said. She recalls a bleeding Matloob came home one evening. Three days later, he died at Guru Tegh Bahadur Hospital. According to another vendor who also sells fruits on a push-cart, all vendors are subjected to harassment if they do not pay hafta on time. Another vendor disclosed that there is a conflict between those who pay the hafta and those who don't. The former incite the police to harass the latter.
A drunken policeman was accorded a "bizarre welcome" when he reached a liquor shop to receive the "monthly collection" as per a prior-agreement at Gandhinagar in New Delhi. The owner of the liquor shop, Kalu, cocked his eye towards the three or four drunken henchmen, who, armed with knives and sticks, were waiting for the arrival of the cop. Crying for help, the policeman ran into another shop to save his life. His crime? His crime was that he went to receive "monthly collection" in compliance with his top brass. His scooter was left at the shop.
The Gandhinagar police station has not even confirmed this incident so far. A policeman said on condition of anonymity that when he was on patrol duty in a posh area, it was incumbent upon him to pay rupees 15,000 per month to his top brass. "I could not pay out of my salary ranging between 7,000 and 8,000. I used to get a bribe of at least 30,000 rupees per month and sent 15,000 to my bosses out of that."
"The amount to be sent to the top brass varies area-wise. In a poor area, it is meager. Corruption has permeated into the veins of our guardians of law. "I sped up my scooter, when I found no cop at a red light. All of a sudden, a cop appeared from behind the bush and came my way. Perhaps he was waiting. I forthwith gave him a 50 rupee note and accelerated my two-wheeler with no hesitation," said Suresh Chand.
When a relative of this scribe joined the police department, he decided to work honestly. In the beginning, he shied away from bribery. When pressure mounted upon him to mould himself into the "suitable lifestyle", and when he received threats of being shot down in an "encounter", he had to reverse his decision. Then everything was OK.