Nothing can justify bribe-taking, say former top cops
But greed and the hunger for easy money were hurting the national edifice, not just the police force, some of them pointed out.
"Poor salary can be a reason for accepting bribes at a lower level, but we must remember that corruption is at all levels, even the top," former Maharashtra director general of police Ajit Parasnis told IANS.
"However, action against these defaulting officials will set a precedent and help reduce corruption," he added.
Another former Maharashtra director general of police, K Subramanyam, said "something must be wrong" that so many policemen were caught red handed from just once police station.
"It seems to be an organised corruption racket. There are adequate laws that will deter cops from accepting bribes but the system is not strong," he said.
"Even outside the police, the entire system needs to be strengthened so that an event like this is not repeated."
IANS contacted the former police chiefs after Maharashtra Home Minister R R Patil Wednesday suspended the 36 policemen after an activist caught them taking bribes to turn a blind eye to an illegal construction.
All of them were attached to the Nehru Nagar police station in the Kurla suburb in central-eastern Mumbai.
Although policemen are often accused of taking bribes, pictures of the men accepting the money and stuffing them in their pockets have caused widespread revulsion.
Terming it shameful, Mumbai Police Commissioner Satyapal Singh said such acts will not be tolerated.
"As of now, 36 policemen are suspended. It is a very shameful act. We will not tolerate such acts. Now, we are taking departmental action which will be followed by legal action soon," he said.
But Singh also said that the defaulting policemen might have been lured into taking bribes and that a probe by the Anti-Corrpution Bureau (ACB) will show a clear picture.
Most of the suspended men are constables and sub-inspectors. The senior police inspector and head of the police station was also suspended.
The basic salary of a constable in Maharashtra is Rs 7,200 for a 12-hour shift on a normal, eventless day.
However, duty hours often stretch into days, particularly during terror attacks, major festivals and VVIP visits.
Can this be one of the reasons why policemen tend to make easy money?
"Accepting bribes has become a habit," said former Mumbai Police commissioner M N Singh.
"It is not a need, it is just greed to make some easy money and this is affecting all government organizations, not to mention the police force. It is distressing to even hear about it."
Parasnis called for community efforts to ease work pressure on policemen that often results in long duty hours.
Another former Mumbai police chief, P S Pasricha, said rampant corruption in the country was unacceptable.
"India's progress is at stake due to corrupt practices and hence nobody trusts us outside of India," he said.
"The system needs to be more efficient. Unnecessary tasks like bandobast duties for international cricket tournaments and other events can be given to private security agencies.
"This is to help reduce some burden off policemen, who can then better concentrate on crime detection and law and other," Pasricha said.