India anti-corruption hotline overwhelmed by calls

NEW DELHI - An anti-corruption hotline launched by the Indian capital's new graft-busting government was overwhelmed by thousands of calls on its first day, with the city's top politician saying the response exceeded "all expectations."

India's corruption fighter and newly elected chief minister Arvind Kejriwal said the graft hotline aimed at stopping rampant corruption among bureaucrats received 3,904 calls in the first seven hours of operation on Thursday.

"We congratulate the people of Delhi. Everyone has become an anti-corruption 'sting' operator," the leader of the Aam Aadmi (Common Man) Party, told reporters late Thursday.

The number of callers "exceeded all expectations", he added.

"This will make corrupt people fearful of taking a bribe," he added.

Indians routinely complain they are forced to pay bribes to obtain everything from marriage certificates, driving licences to death certificates.

The hotline, open from 8am to 10pm, counsels people what to do if any government official asks for a bribe to do his duty.

Kejriwal said the hotline centre could handle just 824 of the calls Thursday and it would double staff to 30 to handle the flood of callers.

Critics have said they fear the anti-corruption activism being encouraged by the new state government could descend into a form of vigilantism.

The Mail Today newspaper reported Friday that sales of spy-cams and other surveillance equipment had surged as citizens looked to trap corrupt officials on camera.

Kejriwal's performance is being closely watched, with some saying his party's advent could mark the start of a bigger movement to break the grip of the two main parties, Congress, and the Bharatiya Janata Party, on national politics.

The Aam Aadmi Party plans to contest seats in the general elections due in a few months after its success in the Delhi state polls in which it routed the scandal-tainted Congress party which rules at the national level.

The symbol of the rookie party, founded just a year ago, is a broom - to sweep away India's endemic culture of corruption and bribery.

Kejriwal has told citizens to record conversations with corrupt bureaucrats and use the recordings as "proof" to complain to the anti-corruption squad.

As a result of the calls, "we carried out 'stings' in 38 cases. We are confident of the results," he said.

"Everyone has a phone and can send you to prison," Kejriwal said in a warning to bribe-seeking bureaucrats.