"If the media finds out about this racket, we will lose our jobs. So be careful, " Head Constable MS Mansuri told an undercover reporter.
Posing as a small-time Chinese fast food stall owner interested in running a joint just outside the busy station, this reporter found that all the hawkers and stall owners who cause inconvenience to commuters by plying their wares illegally do so with the full support of the Railway Protection Force.
The support comes at a price, of course and a hefty one at that. Mansuri told this reporter that he would have to make a payment of Rs. 2,000 upfront for setting up the stall and then pay the RPF Rs. 7,000 every month as hafta.
"Since selling food is illegal there, you will have to pay some amount each month to keep the police at bay. Pay the token amount first and then I will speak to my senior inspector, Satish Vidhaate, and let you know exactly how much you will have to pay each month," Mansuri is heard saying in the video recording of the conversation.
When the reporter handed over Rs. 500 as a token amount, promising to pay more later, Mansuri said that only a small amount of the protection money would go to him and the bulk would be divided up between senior officials.
Stall owners say that nearly Rs. 26,000 is recovered by the Kurla RPF as hafta every day, making the monthly collection close to Rs. 8 lakh.
They also said that similar rackets are run at every station and crores of rupees go into the railway police's pockets through this 'side business' every year.
"The bigger the business, the more money one has to give the RPF. While hawkers on the foot-over-bridges pay Rs. 500 a month, food stall owners have to shell out between Rs. 4,000 and Rs. 6,000," said a stall owner.
Daily commuter Rahim Khan said he was fed up of trying to find space to walk on the foot-over-bridges . "The station is overcrowded as it is and the hawkers, who enjoy the backing of the RPF, are just making things worse.
There is hardly any space to walk on the foot-over-bridges and near the entry and exit points and one has to struggle to find even standing room near the booking offices," he lamented Asha Gupta, another commuter, said, "Besides leaving no room for us, the overcrowding resulting from hawkers occupying the foot-over-bridges and entry and exit points have made them happy hunting grounds for pickpockets," she said.
RPF Inspector Satish Vidhaate, who was named by Mansuri, said, "I am not involved in anything wrong."
Inspector General (RPF) A Sharma said, "We are investigating the matter. If I find them guilty, I will take strict action against them."
Source - NDTV