'Every traffic police station in the city has a policeman designated unofficially as the 'cashier.'
'His job is to collect the bribes and, at the end of every month, distribute this money among the cops according to rank.'
Rediff.com's Syed Firdaus Ashraf meets Head Constable Sunil Toke, who is fighting alleged corruption within the Mumbai police's traffic department.
Meeting Head Constable Sunil Toke was easy -- till last year, that is.
He was just a phone call away.
Today, you have to wait for at least an hour to get an appointment with him, and that too only if you are lucky.
I am waiting for Toke outside the National Stock Exchange building in Worli, south central Mumbai, at the given time, but he does not turn up.
"I am reaching in just five minutes," Toke calls up to say.
Ever since Toke filed a petition before the Bombay high court accusing the Mumbai traffic police of corruption, and submitted 40 audio and five video tapes as evidence, he has become the 'most wanted man' in the Mumbai police force.
Every city policeman wants to know who this Toke is, and what he is up to.
Why is he accusing his fellow policemen of corruption?
After 90 minutes of waiting, Toke turns up for the meeting.
"Do you want to do an interview here on the road?" he asks.
"As you wish," I say.
"No," he says, and takes me to an office nearby.
"Have you heard the song Mehangai Maar Gayi (from Manoj Kumar's 1974 hit Roti Kapda aur Makaan)?" he asks me.
"Like inflation," Toke says, "corruption is also killing us."
Toke was posted to the traffic department in 2014 and, in his three year stint, he says he unearthed a web of alleged corruption from the top to the bottom of the force, and with proof.
Why did he go to court and not complain to his superiors? "I did that," he says. "I went up to the police commissioner's office with documentary proof, but nothing happened. Therefore, I went to the high court. And now, I hope the court takes action against this corrupt system."
Toke refuses to name the people against whom he has submitted evidence, saying the case is sub judice.
"I realised that policemen take bribes and flout rules. The government is incurring losses because of this corruption," the head constable says. "I told my seniors about this, but no action was taken."
"I filed written complaints with my seniors," he adds, "but there was no action from their side. They only gave me acknowledgments of my complaints."
"Every traffic police station in the city has a policeman designated unofficially as the 'cashier'," he alleges. "His job is to collect the bribes and, at the end of every month, distribute this money among the cops according to rank."
"The rate is fixed for every policeman according to his rank."
And who pays bribes to the traffic police?
Only if we all do that, will the corruption stop.'
"There are many people who bribe policemen, like the water tanker mafia, drivers without seat belts, car showrooms, builders, school vans, private buses and tourist vehicles. There are many such sources from where they make money," says Toke.
Citing his own example, Toke says, "When I was transferred to the Goregaon traffic police, I was told to pay Rs 40,000 as a bribe to my seniors if I did not want the posting. I refused, and therefore they posted me at Goregaon (in the western suburbs)."
After 34 years in police service, why is Toke taking on the system only now?
"It is not that I did not raise my voice earlier. When I was posted at the Nagpada police station (in central Mumbai) in the 1980s, I did a sting on my colleagues, but no one took it seriously," he says.
After a pause, Toke adds, "I guess I hold a small post in the police, therefore no one takes me seriously."
Why is he alone taking on his colleagues when the rest keep mum?
"I am fighting against the corrupt system and I believe if someone is doing wrong, then he must be punished. I want people to pay fines to the government, not bribe the police," says Toke.
Providing more details on how widespread the bribing malaise is, Toke says, "Each traffic constable in Mumbai earns Rs 2,000 every day. If he apprehends just 10 people jumping traffic signals and takes a bribe of Rs 200 each from them, he will easily make Rs 2,000 a day."
Asked if his efforts will help reduce corruption, he said, "Revolution will not come in one day. I alone cannot root out corruption. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is doing a good job at the top level. But how much can he do alone?"
"Therefore, I feel we all must support him and stand by him. We as citizens must not bribe policemen, but pay up the fine even if it is more. Only if we all do that, will the corruption stop."
So, is he afraid, is he under threat?
"No I am not, though my family is scared. But I tell them if every policeman thinks like this, then how will we stop corruption? I am going to retire in 2023. I will complete 34 years in the police this February and I want corruption to end in my department," Toke says.
Has he any plans to join politics? "No," he says. "I have no political ambitions."
Before leaving, I ask Toke if he has any regrets.
"Yes. The police never rewarded me for my bravery. In 1988, I caught four dacoits who murdered a bank official in Andheri. I was stabbed too, but I managed to catch all of them and they were sentenced to life imprisonment. I was promised a Rs 50,000 reward then, but I never saw it even after 28 years."
IMAGES: Head Constable Sunil Toke. Photograph (top): Syed Firdaus Ashraf/Rediff.com