“The collection of ‘hafta’ is totally illegal and unbecoming of a police officer,” says Additional Commissioner of Police (Law and Order) T. Suneel Kumar.

In an interview with The Hindu, Mr. Suneel Kumar sought to emphasise the fact that the bribe giver was party to seeking certain illegal concessions.

“For example, a liquor store owner may be paying ‘hafta’ to operate his shop for longer hours beyond the closure deadline,” he says.

‘Both parties guilty’

Certainly, senior officers are aware of “hafta” collection, but “it becomes difficult to take disciplinary action unless it is reported to them,” he says. Those paying “hafta” may not report as they too may be guilty of unauthorised practices.

“A huge challenge in taking action in such cases is the lack of evidence or proof of the exchange of ‘hafta’. It is not a case of payment through a bank account which can be easily traced,” he says.

Harassment plaint

Some aggrieved parties tend to file a complaint of harassment but will not directly state it as a case of “hafta” collection. “In such cases, our special teams or the CCB (Central Crime Branch) may investigate the matter. If we find enough proof, we will take disciplinary action against the officer in question,” he says.

Asked if there was any basis on which “hafta” is collected, Mr. Suneel Kumar said: “It cannot be categorised on any basis as it is unorganised. It depends on the arrangement between the two beneficiaries and could be on a weekly, monthly basis or may not even have a regular arrangement. ‘Hafta’ collection takes place when there are day-to-day inspections involved.”

Punishment

So how is a guilty police official punished?

“If it is brought to the attention of officers at the higher level, it can be dealt with immediately by looking into the activity [entailing] the ‘hafta’ collection. Sometimes our plainclothesmen (CCB or special teams usually) also report to us about any such illegal activity they observe on their rounds. If found guilty, the officer will be either be suspended or transferred to a position where he may not have enough scope for such illegal practices,” he says.

Underpaid force

Asked why the practice was endemic in the police force, he said: “Most police officers work long hours. They don’t have holidays on festivals either and may get an extra Rs. 150 or so for working on those days. ‘Hafta’ is one way of acquiring money without doing anything."

“In case of constables, the average salary per month is about Rs. 12,000, and the take-home amount may be about Rs. 9,000. About 27 to 30 per cent of the officers are provided with government accommodation while the rest have to find their own. Going by the rents, at least half of the constable’s salary or, perhaps, more goes for accommodation. In such conditions, he may [collect] ‘hafta’.”

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