I would get at least Rs. 30,000 a month without having to do anything: former policeman

So, who is an honest policeman? “One who doesn’t go out of his way to extort money,” replies a former sub-inspector of police in the city, who resigned two years ago.

What does that mean? “As a sub-inspector of police (Law and Order) of a prime police station in the city, I would get at least Rs. 30,000 of ‘hafta’ (protection money) per month. Shop owners, street vendors, bar and pub owners, sex workers, restaurant owners… everybody paid. And I would get a share of the booty without having to move from my chair,” says the 28-year-old who has since joined the civil services.

“I did not take bribes and fix cases. I would not bow to pressure from local politicians and corrupt senior officers. I would not go out of my way to extort money from rich businessmen and criminals. That’s why I was considered honest,” he says sardonically.

‘VAT ka VAT’

When this “honest” man’s claims are put to test on the ground, a rigorously imposed “parallel taxation” system begins to emerge from the shadowy bylanes of the city’s marketplaces. “We (jokingly) call it VAT ka VAT,” says a businessman in Gandhi Nagar who runs a shop selling pirated DVDs and smuggled goods.

Only beggars and street vendors with disabilities are exempt from the “VAT ka VAT”. Even pavement dwellers and porters are made to pay. That pot full of money, which almost every policeman in the city takes home at the end of each day, is filled rupee by rupee. Salaries and perks paid by the Exchequer to these men in uniform, therefore, becomes a matter of academic interest for them.

Passing the ‘parcel’

Speaking to The Hindu on the condition of anonymity, an assistant commissioner of police, posted in a prime area of the city, said that the money gets passed on up the hierarchy. “We keep a percentage and pass it up,” he claims. As the city’s mood turned festive over the weekend, Rani, an ailing 48-year-old sex worker, searches desperately for a client in the K.R. Market area. She has to pay double the usual “hafta” to the beat constable on the “Cheetah” motorbike, the assistant sub-inspector and his four constables in the “Hoysala” patrol van. And if she gets unlucky, the sub-inspector might send his driver to collect some more.

In all, she has to cough up around Rs. 100 on a normal working day. But today, the market is flush with men who have come to buy groceries and puja items. Many wouldn’t mind cutting down on a few kilos of fruits to spend some time with Rani instead. At Rs. 500 a fling, she might even find three or four customers before the day ends. Hence, the double “hafta”.

Outsourcing collection

There are about 2,000 fruit vendors and twice as many vegetable vendors inside the K.R. Market and on its immediate periphery. Going from one vendor to another to collect the “hafta” is too much work for those at the understaffed police station and so they have outsourced “hafta” collection.

“Four or five men come and collect up to Rs. 5 between 12.30 p.m. and 2.30 p.m. Another batch comes between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m.,” says Velu, a fruit vendor. These “tax collectors” keep a cut and deposit the rest with the police officer who has hired them. Are these ‘tax collectors’ goons? “No, just normal people like you and me who are jobless,” says Velu.

He and his ‘sister’

It is 4 p.m. on Saturday; an assistant sub-inspector is on his “hafta” collection rounds. As he settles down in the chair of one of the pushcart vendors, others gather around him with Rs. 20 in their hands and obsequious grins on their faces. “And what do you have for your sister?” the ASI says, pointing to a woman subordinate who stands smiling beside him. Somebody brings her a black plastic bag and everybody contributes to it with one or two fruits. She asks them to stop once she has collected a few kilos of them.

Some exceptions

Yet, there are some who dare to evade the “tax”. Yacoob Hussain (38), a lodge owner in Shivajinagar, says: “I don’t allow prostitution on my property. I have nothing to hide. So, I don’t pay.”

He sees it as small inconvenience that the police raid his place often and rudely wake up innocent guests in the middle of the night in the name of surprise checks. “It doesn’t surprise me at all,” laughs Hussain.

The homeless (not beggars) and porters, who begin to gather around 12.30 a.m., pay around Rs. 5 per night to sleep on the pavement. The sex workers pay between Rs. 50 and Rs. 100 per day. The tea shop and restaurants that work late into the night pay between Rs. 25 and Rs. 50 to the “Cheetah” squad, Rs. 50 to the “Hoysala” team per day. And when the sub-inspector comes, once or twice a week, Rs. 100 must be paid.

Daily plus monthly

Bar owners who keep their shutter open beyond 11 p.m. pay at least Rs. 200 per day; others, who shut in time, between Rs. 50 and Rs. 100. All bar owners must also pay a monthly levy to the police station. The amount depends on the size of the establishment.

An assistant commissioner of police confessed that the personnel in each police station limits would have demarcated the source of “mamool” for different ranks of officials. Officers above the sub-inspector of police rank don’t go around collecting “hafta”: it comes to them right at their table. They also make money by settling petty disputes. “When somebody assaults another, it is a case of attempt to murder under the law,” the assistant commissioner of police says. “But if the inspector or the assistant commissioner of police is paid between Rs. 25,000 and Rs. 50,000, the case is settled amicably,” he adds.

Petty cases

He points out that even the most “peaceful” police stations witness at least two cases of petty assault every day. The assistant commissioner of police even invites us to spend a few hours in his police station to witness a scene first hand.

Owners of lodges, who allegedly run prostitution rackets, refused to speak. An affable pimp, who has put up his number online, cheerfully confesses to paying Rs. 2,000 a day to the jurisdictional police officer.

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