Saturday, August 23, 2014

AAP anti-graft helpline a call centre for cops - By Yogesh Sadhwani, Mumbai Mirror

AAP anti-graft helpline a call centre for cops

By Yogesh Sadhwani, Mumbai Mirror | Aug 23, 2014, 01.05 AM IST
AAP anti-graft helpline a call centre for cops
Top: AAP volunteers attend a training session on how to help citizens being bribed. (Above) Ravi Srivastava takes calls
Initiative tastes early success with four RPF policemen booked for demanding bribe from sweeper. Over a dozen other citizens being harassed by govt staffers get help.
Namaskar. Aam Aadmi Party anti-corruption helpline," says 60-year-old Ravi Srivastava, while answering calls on his cell phone as he sits outside a coffee shop in Kharghar. One of four coordinators of AAP's anti-corruption helpline, Srivastava answers 60 to 70 calls each day, hears every caller out patiently and, depending on the nature of complaints, passes the messages to his battery of 80-odd volunteers spread across Mumbai.

Barely a week old, the helpline is already popular and tasted its first success on Thursday. A CBI anti-corruption unit arrested two Railway Protection Force (RPF) officials and booked two others for demanding a bribe from a contract sweeper.

Amin Shaikh, a supervisor with a railway cleaning contractor, had approached Srivasatva on August 19 and said that RPF officials had detained one of his sweepers and were demanding a Rs 15,000 bribe to let him go.

"I asked him if he was willing to fight the case out and take it to a logical conclusion," said a proud Srivastava. "Amin was very confident that he did not want to bribe anyone and wanted the guilty brought to book. Next, I put our team of volunteers from around Bandra in touch with him. Within 48 hours we had results." Once Srivastava, who used to work with a PSU, put Shaikh in touch with AAP volunteers, the latter verified his complaint.

Mayank Jain, who heads one of the six teams of volunteers in Mumbai, explained that after Shaikh narrated his problem, it was evident that it was a clear-cut case of bribery and needed to be handled by sleuths. They first approached the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB), but were directed to the CBI, as the RPF is a central agency. "I had met the director-general of the ACB before the helpline was launched, and he had promised support in every manner, so it was easy to contact his officials. They pointed out that the ACB only handles state cases and that this case would have to be handled by the CBI. ACB officials were kind enough to put us on to aCBI team," explained Jain.

Over the next 48 hours, the CBI put everything in place and on Thursday night arrested two RPF officials, while two others are absconding.

While there were arrests in only the RPF case, in the past week AAP has been able to help over a dozen citizens who were being harassed by various government departments. "Most calls are to figure out how we work and can help them," said Srivastava. "There were also calls from Nagpur, Thane and Navi Mumbai, cities we do not cater to as of now. On an average, three to four calls everyday are specifically about corruption. In such cases we give the caller two options - whether they want to get agencies like the ACB and CBI involved, or simply want their work done without paying a bribe."

The majority of callers simply want a resolution to their problem and do not want to approach authorities. Jain points out a recent case of a western suburbs resident whose ration card was being delayed despite all the paperwork being done. The caller said that officials were delaying because they were expecting a bribe, but he didn't want to lodge a complaint with the ACB. Jain and his volunteers approached the ration office, met the concerned official's superior and told him about the problem. The complainant's ration card was immediately issued and the concerned official pulled up by his superior.

The helpline aims at eradicating corruption, but the team does not force complainants to take the legal route. The only condition laid down is that callers must identify themselves and be willing to stand up for their rights.

Praveen Dixit, director-general of ACB, is impressed with the helpline. "When they came to meet me, irrespective of the fact that they were a political party, I told them that we would support them in every way. The ACB's job is to help those who are being harassed by corrupt government servants. The helpline is only helping us do our job," said Dixit.
Call 96999-49331

AAP Mumbai has put a simple system in place. Its has a number (96999-49331) which is answered by one of four central coordinators. If a particular coordinator is busy, calls automatically get diverted to another. Once the coordinator identifies the nature of the complaint, volunteers verify the case and initiate action. Often it involves going with the complainant to a government office, meeting senior officials and filing a complaint against a particular official who is demanding a bribe or harassing the citizen.
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