Recently a DCP of Mumbai city was suspended on the backdrop of his alleged corrupt activities ie bribe demands in order to not harass angadias ( a pre modern courier system still prevalent in India for precious metal/money).
The precious metal jewellery business has traditionally functioned from the shadows of legal framework. This Mumbai police case gives an important understanding of how businesses which are not regulated by Company law and other financial regulations are exploited by various government agencies including police.
Since I currently head the Maharashtra Railway Police (GRP), let me cite an example from the Railways. Many small and medium jewellery making enterprises located in Mumbai send out their finished jewellery for sale to various smaller towns and cities through their courier boys by train. These fellows transport these valuables in their luggage/backpacks, sell the entire/portion of the jewellery at their destination and return by train again carrying large cash proceeds of the sale and the unsold jewellery of any.
The large cash as well as the jewellery means these boys are susceptible to be caught by police/Income Tax/ED anywhere in this entire journey. Each of these departments has a legitimate reason for detaining these courier boys-since the jewellery/cash could be stolen property or part of a money laundering scheme. The boys carry invoices of the jewellery but there is always the need or pretext of checking and confirming before the courier boy can be allowed or not by these authorities’ to board the train with the Jewellery and cash. Further, where police end their role, the Income Tax or ED could be informed to begin their checks. This impacts the business. And therefore can be a reason for corrupt demands and payments.
The jewellery associations claimed that their members were being so harassed by the railway police. Police have a role only to check that these valuable goods are not stolen property from somewhere else and the courier boys are not the thieves who have stolen these valuable goods.
We discussed with these associations and put together an SOP for the association members as well as the railway police to follow for the identification of ownership of the valuable goods as well as for safety of the courier boys. There has not been any complaint thereafter but it is still early to say that the new process works. For corrupt purposes this new process can still be gamed but it will require a risk taking policeman to attempt to do that😊.
There are many such businesses which operate on the fringes of regulation ( like hawkers, roadside services etc) and there are also individuals who cannot voice their exploitation (like criminals with a past record of crime, etc) who are easy targets for corrupt government officials offering them ‘protection’ from their harassment in lieu of periodic bribes called ‘haftas’.
There is a huge need for plugging these cracks in the legal and accountability fabric of our country. Small ticket corruption which affects a large number or groups of people creates a culture of corruption in public life. Clarity, simplicity and overarching regulations covering all economic activity-big or small- will help counter this. Each such case which is disclosed in the public domain should be analysed to plug the regulatory gaps. This could help significantly in bringing a culture of integrity in our public life.