Saturday’s incident of a Mumbai traffic police constable towing away a car with a woman and her seven-month baby on board in Malad is being dubbed on social media platforms as “high-handedness” of traffic cops in the city. However, this is not the first time that the traffic police have drawn attention for their contentious actions.
In 2016, head constable Sunil Bhagwantrao Toke had filed a public interest litigation (PIL) in Bombay High Court alleging “rampant corruption” in the traffic department. Toke, who had earlier served in the Goregaon and Wadala units of the traffic department, was shocked at what he alleged was rampant corruption. He said traffic cops would often catch drunk drivers and let them go for a bribe of Rs 10,000 to Rs 50,000. He also mentioned that illegal taxis and autos woud pay around Rs 1,000 to Rs 2,000 to the cops. Toke had even filmed traffic cops allegedly taking bribes.
Toke said, “Corruption is deep-rooted in the department. I am fighting to end it from the root. After I filed the PIL, I have been getting videos and complaints from people on my WhatsApp and email ID. I am not alone. There are many who have refused to turn a blind eye to corruption around them. It’s just that they are unable to gather courage to fight it. Hence, they send me the proofs and I am fine with it,” said Toke.
Toke added, “In each region/division of the traffic police, there are at least two constables who are known as cashiers of the department. There have been cases where cops take money from five-star hotels for allowing illegal parking on the roads. I have mentioned all this in the petition and have sought that FIRs be registered against corrupt and errant police officials. I have also demanded the constitution of a Special Investigation Team to look into the entire case.”
The next hearing for the PIL is scheduled on November 30. Top officials of the department too have been concerned about the rising complaints against on-road behaviour of traffic constables. According to officials, there have been a number of incidents where motorists and traffic cops engage in heated arguments affecting the reputation of the Mumbai traffic department. In an attempt to stop this and to eradicate corruption, the department recently adopted the e-challan system.
“The decision to start e-challans and remove cash element from fines was an anti-corruption measure. All fines are now collected through card payment and not in cash,” said a senior traffic official. The police proposal to equip its personnel manning traffic on the road with body cameras is also aimed at introducing transparency, as the force faces criticism for demanding bribes and behaving rudely with motorists.
On Saturday evening, a Mumbai traffic cop had towed away a car in Malad, when a woman was breastfeeding her seven-month-old baby inside. However, a number of videos surfaced a day later in some of which policemen are seen asking the woman to step out of the car.