Insights into Editorial: Of crime and punishment

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Insights into Editorial: Of crime and punishment


Context:

As the world encounters crime and criminality of a more and more complicated nature, as new kinds of crime surface and become the norm, record-keeping must be seen to keep pace with the changes. Adequate and up-to-date records on crime are necessary to tackle crime effectively.

Low conviction rates and a lack of a lawful definition of crime mark criminal administration in India.

The National Crime Records Bureau, which comes under the Union Ministry of Home Affairs, has released its annual publication, “Crime in India 2016”. The NCRB is responsible for the collation of annual data on crime in the country

‘Crime in India’ report, 2016

The latest report is the 64th edition of “Crime in India”, which has been published since 1953. The annual report provides information on all the FIRs registered under the Indian Penal Code (IPC) as well as under Special and Local Laws (SLL) by the police in all of India’s states and Union territories. Information is also provided on the disposal of the FIRs registered.

Latest report from NCRB has several additions – new entities, new accounting, new chapters, and new kinds of crime and/or new records on crimes hitherto undocumented in the report.

Together, these new features appear to show that an effort has been made, under the current administration, to evolve, expand and prioritise effective and adequate record-keeping, which will only help to bring India closer to global best practices in maintaining criminal and crime records.

What’s New in ‘Crime in India 2016’?

  1. City-Wise Data

For the first time, city-wise incidence of crimes and disposal for 19 metropolitan cities having a population above 2 million) has been included under different chapters like Crime against Women, Cyber Crimes and Economic Crimes. The analysis itself shows that Delhi accounted for 38.8% of total IPC crimes reported in the cities, followed by Bengaluru (8.9%) and Mumbai (7.7%).

 

Why is City-Wise Crime Data Necessary?

India is in the middle of rapid and large-scale urbanisation. Even as more and more people tend to live in India’s cities – based on both past and present migration — semi-urban and rural areas are also undergoing urbanisation, often without movement of people. The net result is that more and more Indians are living, or beginning to live, in urban areas.

Now, with rising populations and the increasing importance of metropolitan cities, it is necessary to collect crime data specific to a particular city.

  • Such data incentivises city administrations to make a sense of their law and order situation.
  • It also helps them strategize effectively for the maintenance of the same.
  • Nationally collating city-wise crime data would offer lessons to urban law-keeping authorities across the country that can also immediately learn from relevant examples elsewhere.
  • It further creates a healthy competition among metropolitan cities to fare better in future records. For instance, if Delhi has high crime statistics, it can take its cue from specific crimes, such as crime against women, where it fares poorly and frame its strategy accordingly.

 

  1. Seizure of Arms, Ammunitions, Drugs & Currency

It is also for the first time that statistics on the seizure of arms, ammunition, drugs and currency by the CAPFs/CPOs (Assam Rifles, CISF, BSF, CRPF, NIA and SSB) have been included.

  • It is extremely important to collate data on arms and ammunitions to curb insurgency, gun violence, and other arms-related crimes.
  • The fact is that, gun-running and arms smuggling is a very big problem globally.
  • Added to that, the persistence of terror and terror-related treats make it imperative for security forces and law-keepers to have data on arms at their disposal.

 

  • New Chapter on Missing Persons

A new chapter on Missing Persons & Children has been included in the “Crime in India 2016”. A total of 5, 49,008 individuals (2, 34,334 male and 3, 14,674 female) were reported missing in 2016.

  • This data is available state-wise, which makes it easier for the administration to target specific states and counter problems like human trafficking, kidnapping, etc.
  • Also, there was a Supreme Court direction regarding data on “missing (and traced) persons and children”. This, too, has been met in the latest NCRB report.

Analysis of “Crime in India 2016” report

 “Crime in India 2016” presents a dismal picture of the key performance statistic with only 47% convictions in Indian Penal Code (IPC) crimes at the national level.

  1. Reporting and recording
  • Delhi provides an interesting case study, where there is no political interference and the Police Commissioner reports to the Lieutenant Governor, and not the Chief Minister.
  • With a population smaller than Mumbai, it has two times the number of police stations. Yet, in Delhi, while 1, 90,876 persons were sent to trial last year, there were only 9,837 IPC convictions in the year. In Delhi only 58% of those arrested were charge sheeted, while in Mumbai, more persons were charge sheeted than were arrested for IPC crimes.
  • The key statistic of police performance is not merely correct reporting and recording but charge sheets and convictions, as this impact on criminal behaviour.

 

  1. DNA testing
  • DNA testing, which can secure higher conviction rates, is, inexplicably, a low priority.
  • Delays in this crucial evidence, which plays an important factor in acquittals, are a setback as samples deteriorate with time.

 

  • No of Crimes reported
  • Delhi accounts for 38% of the total crime under the IPC.
  • Delhi accounts for five times the IPC crime when compared with Mumbai, and 33% of violent crime in metros when compared with 13% in Mumbai.
  • Crime prevention is affected by conviction rate, beat patrolling, and by the police and community working together.

Unresolved issues

There is a need to distinguish between accountability and operational responsibility with focus on clear performance measures. In addition to those related to roles and responsibilities, there are also systemic issues.

  • Despite the recommendations of Law Commissions and the Supreme Court, as well going by experience in the developed world, we do not have separate wings for investigation of crime and for law and order.
  • Related to this reform is the debate whether the police are a functional “service” based on skills of investigation or a “force” oriented towards “effect” which on command will operate regardless of the cost to itself or the social fabric.
  • Similarly, in most countries, the prosecutor, and not the police, has discretion on whether to press charges as they involve adjudication. Years ago, the Law Commission had suggested a directorate of prosecution independent of the police to guide investigation.
  • There is still controversy over which kinds of conduct are best controlled by the application of criminal law and which kinds by other means.
  • Cases related to liquor and motor vehicles account for more than a third of all cases.
  • The criminal justice system may be limited to crimes under the IPC, while enforcement of administrative law and social legislation requires a different approach involving summary trials, changing societal attitudes and modes of behaviour.
  • The effectiveness of prisons is now being questioned.
  • Nearly two-thirds of the prison population is awaiting trial and half the number of under trials is normally acquitted.
  • Over 80% of prisoners are sentenced to terms less than three months, 40% are under 30 years old, semi-literate and convicted under special and local acts.
  • Criminologists now feel that short-term sentences expose such prisoners to criminal indoctrination in jail and social condemnation on release, with a strong case for greater reliance on compounding, probation and parole.

Conclusion

Expanded crime records have been a necessity for India, with its vast population and size. It was also necessary as we inhabit a world witnessing increasingly complex kinds of crime.

The expansion itself points at an evolving idea of crime and in record-keeping vis-à-vis crime. If law and order agencies as well as security forces are to keep apace crime and criminals and bring them to book, they must have the right intellectual and instrumental resources.

A large part of that is fulfilled by improved record-keeping, which helps authorities – as well as ordinary citizens – understand better the crime scene and tackle the same, even as they adapt their behavioural patterns accordingly.

To maintain law and order and defeat crime, first of all, crime must be known in its totality to the extent possible. It is encouraging to see steps being taken towards this as evidenced in “Crime in India 2016”.