Law and order

NCRB data for 2017: Criminal delay

Print edition : November 22, 2019

During a protest urging the Centre to take action against mob lynching and attacks on Muslims in various BJP-ruled States, in Bengaluru on June 29. Photo: K. MURALI KUMAR

Sardar Singh Jatav, a Dalit who was attacked by caste Hindus, in hospital in Gwalior, Madhya Pradesh, on September 20. Photo: ATUL LOKE/New York Times

The NCRB finally releases data on crime for 2017 after a two-year interval, raising many eyebrows with its omissions and commissions.

The two-year delay in the release of crime statistics for 2017 by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) has led to speculation that it was a deliberate ploy by the government to manage the perception of crime and security in India.

This is the first time that the report has been delayed since 1954, when it began to be published annually. But this is not the first time the Narendra Modi government has delayed or suppressed reports that it found unfavourable. In the past few years, any dataset that did not project the current administration in a favourable light was either tweaked or hidden.

For instance, the NCRB has not released the Accidental Deaths and Suicides in India report, which reveals the number of farm suicides, for the years between 2016 and 2018.

At a time when the Indian economy is not doing well and unemployment is on the rise, the government suppressed unemployment figures instead of being transparent about the situation so that policymakers could help the country emerge from the downturn.

Towards the end of January 2019, the acting Chairman of the National Statistical Commission resigned in protest against a delay in releasing employment data. It later came to light that the unemployment rate in the country for 2017-18 had touched 6.1 per cent, the highest level in 45 years. In December 2018, the schedule for the release of results from the Periodic Labour Force Survey of the National Sample Survey Office was not met.

Earlier this year, former Chief Economic Adviser Arvind Subramanian brought into question the government’s claims on gross domestic product (GDP) figures. He released a paper that stated that India had overestimated GDP growth for the 2011-17 period by 2.5 percentage points. Official estimates pegged the growth during this period at around 7 per cent, but Subramanian stated that the average was only around 4.5 per cent. On the delay in the release of crime statistics, the NCRB’s excuse was flimsy: it said the revision in the proforma for collecting the statistics led to delays in States submitting their data.

Besides, the data the NCRB included and excluded in this year’s report have raised many questions. Hate crimes in India targeting religious minorities and lower castes have increased exponentially since the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government came to power in 2014. The number of mob attacks or lynchings has also increased. The NCRB reportedly collected data on lynching but did not release them. During an address in Nagpur in October, Mohan Bhagwat, the head of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh, rubbished the claims of lynching and said the term was “foreign” and that it came from the Bible. In his opinion, it was simply being used to malign the nation. However, there are video testimonies by the attackers themselves and surveys by independent agencies that point to the reality of lynchings.

Amnesty International India’s interactive website “Halt the Hate” said that reports of hate crimes witnessed the steepest rise since 2016. In 2017, seven incidents of mob lynching were reported by the media, including the lynching of Pehlu Khan, a dairy farmer, who was murdered by a mob under the pretext of saving cows.

Despite the video evidence and the dying man’s declaration naming all his attackers, the perpetrators roam free; instead, a case of cow smuggling was registered against Pehlu Khan and his two sons. On October 30, 2019, the Rajasthan High Court ordered the quashing of this case.

In May 2017, seven men were killed in Jharkhand following rumours on WhatsApp of the presence of child kidnappers in the area. Between January 2017 and July 2018, 33 persons were killed and at least 99 injured in 69 reported cases, according to the “IndiaSpend” website.

In the NCRB’s “Crime in India 2016” report, Sudhir Pratap Singh, Director General of the Bureau of Police Research and Development (BPR&D), said that the agency would be collecting data in new categories: “I am happy to know that NCRB has once again started consultation process with all stakeholders to improve the quality and content of the report. The NCRB has already developed 14 additional proforma in 2017 for collection of information on attacks against media personnel/RTI [Right to Information] activists/whistle-blowers/persons from North East, preventive arrests, etc.”

However, data under many such heads have not been published. They include crimes committed by khap panchayats and religious preachers; crimes against journalists/mediapersons, RTI activists, whistle-blowers/informers, social workers/activists and witnesses; murders by influential people; rapes during communal violence; hate crimes; human rights violations by Central armed police forces; and honour killings.

The reason given by the NCRB for not including these crimes in the report was that the data assessed were “vague” and “unreliable”.

Even as it left out certain data, the NCRB created new categories such as crimes by “anti-national elements”. It recorded 1,450 crimes committed by anti-national elements under various sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and Special Local Laws.

The anti-national elements were further divided into North-East insurgents, naxalites/left-wing extremists (LWEs) and terrorists, and a new category called jehadi terrorists. The report does not provide any definition of a jehadi terrorist nor does it explain why only terrorism associated with a particular religion was included.

At present, the Ministry of Home Affairs lists terrorist organisations as specified under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA). In 2017, there were 377 cases against terrorists, almost all of them in Jammu and Kashmir and Manipur. However, there were more cases against terrorists in Manipur than in Jammu and Kashmir, with 185 cases booked under the UAPA in Manipur. Chhattisgarh was most affected by LWEs, with 492 of the total 652 cases listed in the category across India being booked in the State. In Manipur, 84 naxalites were booked under the UAPA.

Fake news

Again, for the first time the NCRB released data on fake news and rumour-mongering. There were 257 such cases on the ground across India in 2017 and 170 on social media. These were reported under Section 505 of the IPC, which covers the spread of false news and rumours with an intention to mislead or incite or stir unrest. Madhya Pradesh (138) and Uttar Pradesh (32) recorded the highest number of fake news cases.

Fake news online has been categorised as an offence under the Information Technology Act, together with IPC Section 505, and it involves communication devices as medium or target. Assam, which is undergoing a massive and controversial citizenship exercise through the implementation of the National Register of Citizens, topped this list with 56 cases, followed by Uttar Pradesh (21) and Madhya Pradesh (17). Cybercrime rose by a whopping 77 per cent in 2017 from 2016.

For the first time, the NCRB has published data for cases in which only the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, or S.C./S.T. Act, was invoked without any sections of the IPC. Unlike the 2016 data, there are separate figures for 2017 for intentional insult or humiliation of a Dalit, occupation of Dalit land, preventing the use of public space, and social boycott.

Of the 5,775 offences registered solely under the S.C./S.T. Act in 2017 with Dalits as victims, 3,172, or 55 per cent, were related to “Intentionally Insult or Intimidate with Intent to Humiliate”. There were 47 cases of land-grabbing affecting Dalits; Dalits faced social boycott in 63 cases, and they were prevented from using public spaces in 12 cases.

The highest number of insult cases were reported from Karnataka (1,175), followed by Uttar Pradesh (804) and Bihar (338). Sixteen cases of land-grabbing were reported from Himachal Pradesh and Karnataka each. Cases of preventing a Dalit from using public space were reported from Maharashtra, Himachal Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala and Punjab. Of the 63 cases of social boycott or of a Dalit being forced to leave his place of residence, 57 were reported from Uttar Pradesh.

Crimes against Dalits

Countrywide, 43,203 cases of atrocities against Dalits (including IPC and S.C./S.T. Act cases) were reported in 2017, a rise of about 6 per cent from the previous year. The highest rates of crimes against Dalits (number of incidents per 1,00,000 population) were in Madhya Pradesh (52), Bihar (41) and Rajasthan (35).

According to the latest NCRB data, counterfeit money seems to have increased in circulation after demonetisation. Fake Indian currency notes worth Rs.28.1 crore were seized in 2017, almost twice the value of counterfeit currency seized in 2016 (Rs.15.1 crore). The total number of counterfeit notes seized in 2017 was 3.55 lakh. This is substantially higher than the number of fake notes seized by the authorities in 2016 (2.81 lakh). The highest value of fake notes were seized from Gujarat (Rs.9 crore), followed by Delhi (Rs.6.7 crore) and Uttar Pradesh (Rs.2.8 crore).

Crimes against women rose 6 per cent in 2017 from 2016, with Uttar Pradesh recording the highest number of cases.

Some 58,800 incidents of rioting were reported during the year, with the highest number from Bihar (11,698), followed by Uttar Pradesh (8,990) and Maharashtra (7,743).

Informed sources said the delay or suppression of NCRB data hardly mattered since the data were not accurate and that there was misreporting by States. The data are based on the crimes reported to local police stations and not the first information reports registered. But the fact remains that the NCRB’s crime statistics are the country’s official data on crime and the benchmark for criminologists, Ministries, researchers, the police and non-governmental organisations to formulate laws and policies.

The NCRB was set up in 1986 and has since functioned as a clearing house of information on crime to assist investigators and penal and correctional agencies alike. The rehabilitation of criminals and their remand, parole, premature release and so on depend on this data.

In August 2017, the government unilaterally merged two separate and independent police agencies, the NCRB and the BPR&D, to improve administrative efficiency and promote optimal utilisation of resources. Under the new structure, the BPR&D Director General will serve as the head of both the bodies, and the NCRB Director will report to the Director General. The NCRB was reportedly unhappy with the situation, and within 10 months of the move, the government demerged the two. The Home Ministry has referred the matter to the Madhukar Gupta Committee for examination. The BPR&D is considered a not-so-sought-after posting for Indian Police Service officers, and merging the two agencies might not be a good idea, a reliable source said.

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