Crime In India 2009: The Mystery of Statistics
The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) attached to the Ministry of Home Affairs, in its annual publication “Crime in India” reports on the incidences of crimes in the country. The latest report published by the NCRB is for the year 2009.  The report is a compilation of cases registered by the police and their disposal along with the number of persons arrested and the disposal of their cases. The data for the publication of this report is collected through the State and District Crime Records Bureaus. However, it must be pointed out that this report, like the ones before it critically fall short of creating a realistic picture of how policing is conducted in India, and particularly, how it often falls short of the basic policing requirements. Besides this, on certain crimes the NCRB depends on various police and vigilance departments to provide information to the bureau, eg: prevention of corruption cases, and there is of course no reliable way of knowing whether this process is carried out in earnest.
The report contains some figures that seem to belie ground realities in some instances. When illustrating the rate of crime in 2009, relatively safe states such as Puducherry, Kerala and the remote islands of Andaman and Nicobar rate in at a whopping 418, 341 and 222 respectively (where the rate is crime per one lakh population), whereas notoriously criminal states such as Uttar Pradesh and Bihar only register a mere 88 and 124 in the same index.  This could mean one of two things, firstly that the crime rate is actually higher in Puducherry than in Uttar Pradesh, or secondly, that the public have greater faith in the police to investigate their crime thoroughly and/or it is easier to get an FIR registered in cognizable crimes. The first instance seems highly unlikely as UP is infamous for its criminal activity and a notoriously unsafe place to live in especially for women and children. The NCRB data that everyone uses as an index of crime are only a glimpse as far as real numbers of crime are concerned. There are nearly twice as many cases that never get registered by the police and victims never receive any help or justice. This is a gap in information that the report makes no effort to fill in, and hence leads us to think that is nothing more than an exercise in statistics.
The NCRB data does not publish any information on the number of incidents where the police have refused to register cases or sent the complainants back without taking any action. The report therefore, does nothing to acknowledge the pain of people who fail to get even the most basic legal requirements of the people from the police, particularly registration of FIR’s. This is despite the Criminal Procedure Code, police regulations, numerous high court and Supreme Court judgements that clearly lay down the statutory duty to register an FIR. A close examination of these statistics leads to a commonsense conclusion. Police data do not reflect the actual number of crime incidents because only a small fraction are registered, usually following desperate efforts by the victims. The dark non reported figures of crime in India could easily be much higher. Thus the data remains unfortunately incomplete and does not paint a comprehensive picture of crime and its different facets in India.
The report also records 191 cases of human rights violations by the police. Human rights violations as defined by the Bureau as rights violated due to Police excesses such as ‘Illegal Detentions’, ‘Fake Encounters’, ‘Extortion’, ‘Torture’, etc. This has recorded an increase in the year 2009 from the previous years. It has also been recorded that 83 policemen were charge-sheeted and 58 of them were convicted for these human rights violations during the year. Assam has reported the maximum 96 cases (50.3% of such cases) followed by Chhattisgarh with 67 (35.1). In states such as Assam, where the Armed forces are still in place, there exists a grey area, where atrocities committed by the union armed forces are not treated as per the provisions under the CrPC and hence are not a part of these findings. Further, a recent report entitled “Broken System — Dysfunction, Abuse and Impunity in the Indian Police” found the UP police to be responsible for the maximum violations to human rights. Further the late Justice A.N Mullah called the UP police “a gang of organized criminals”, a sad statement to be made for the largest police force in the world under a single command. This also portrays the inadequacy of the report in depicting the true nature of crimes in India.
When one looks at treatment of person in custody by the police in the report, the data shows that there were 25 cases of deaths in police custody. There is a very conspicuous absence of the deaths due to police excess or more significantly, deaths due to known causes. The statistics are silent on the scores of suspects that die in custody or the notoriously famous ‘fake encounters’ with the police denying all responsibility, claiming instead that there were other causes for the deaths due such as natural causes or suicides. It is common knowledge that the methods employed by police during investigations, particularly during lockup are far from desirable, and according to some reports, most deaths usually occur within 48 hours, which is why most of them often go unreported and hence, go unrecorded.
An enquiry into deaths by police firing indicates that the highest incidence of police firing and casualties was recorded in Uttar Pradesh (637 & 56 respectively) followed by Jammu & Kashmir (147 & 28 respectively) according to the report. However, when you consider who was on the receiving end of police bullets, the report employs terms such as “against others”, “riot control”, anti dacoity operations” and “against extremist and terrorists”. Despite numerous reported deaths in at the hands of police for the past few years, only 22 cases were registered against policemen, and not surprisingly, not a single policeman was charge sheeted or convicted in the year. Further, a magisterial enquiry was ordered only in 18 cases and a judicial enquiry was ordered in the cases of 7 deaths.
The NCRB is promoted to be an authentic national level bureau has the resources to collect information to further accountability in the police. However by effectively masking police brutality, excess and ill-treatment, the report aids in instilling doubts that are routinely cast upon the authenticity of the information produced by them and the state of policing in general. Further, what is more perplexing are the inconsistencies that are not highlighted in the report and it is important to consider the factors that hamper policing all over the country namely lack of scientific investigation methods and a complete lack of long-term crime prevention strategies. Further, the methodology employed by the premier authority is less than adequate. There are no indicators of public satisfaction in terms of the police, and this is often left to speculation. Since the NCRB report is in the dark with all the figures it does not reveal, it can hardly be relied upon as an authoritative index of crime, or even be considered a reliable mapping of crime trends in the country. It is of little surprise that public dissatisfaction and mistrust of the police is at an all time high, and this report does nothing much to improve that situation.
 NCRB (2010), Crime in India: Executive Summary: http://ncrb.nic.in/CII-2009-NEW/cii-2009/Chapter%201.pdf as on 25 February 2011.
 Times of India (2011), Karat draws attention towards unsafe living conditions for women, 26 February: http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2011-02-26/lucknow/28636442_1_brinda-karat-president-aidwa-signature-campaign as on 28 February 2011.
 Human rights violations have been defined as “police excesses” like illegal detention, fake encounters, extortion, torture etc.
 Human Rights Watch (2009); Broken System — Dysfunction, Abuse and Impunity in the Indian Police, ISBN: 1-56432-518-0, 4 August: http://www.hrw.org/en/reports/2009/08/04/broken-system-0 as on 25 February 2011.
 The scope under which such deaths are recorded includes persons remanded to police custody by the courts, persons who are in custody who have not been remanded; deaths while hospitalization, deaths that occurred while transferring the persons, accident, deaths due to illness.