The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) conceded on Friday that its crime statistics for 2014 and 2015 had misreported cases registered under Section 66A, a cyber law under the Information Technology Act that was scrapped by the Supreme Court last year.
The NCRB’s ‘Crime in India’ report released last month had put the number of people arrested under Section 66A at 3,137 in 2015 and 2423 in 2014. This implied that the police arrested, on an average, 8 people every day in 2015 though the law had been scrapped for violating the constitutional freedom of speech and expression.
Section 66A prescribed a three-year jail term for online content that could be construed to be offensive or false.
The NCRB reviewed figures in its reports after the Hindustan Times report, SC scrapped it, but thousands held last year under dead cyber law , provoked widespread outrage. Rajya Sabha MP, Rajeev Chandrasekhar, who had campaigned against Section 66A, wrote to the Prime Minister and called for an end to abuse of the provision.
On Friday evening, the NCRB put our a corrigendum on its website to fix errors in its report.
Told about the errors, Chandrasekhar told HT that he was happy to know that the provision wasn’t as abused as the NCRB report had indicated. But he stressed the episode had an important lesson for the NCRB.
“Given that NCRB is the repository of all crime data--that forms the basis for public opinion and policy decisions-- this body needs to be a lot more circumspect about the integrity of the data that it produces,” Chandrasekhar said.
The goof up
NCRB’s review indicated that it had collected a combined figure for Section 66, which relates to unauthorised access to a computer or an account, and Section 66A from the state police forces. But this combined figure was attributed to Section 66A in the NCRB report.
A quick inquiry revealed that a software engineer who wrote the computer program two years back apparently knocked out Section 66 because the two sections did not fit in. The engineer did not realise how it would impact the data integrity.
Since the error had crept in 2014, the NCRB’s report for last year too has the same inaccuracy but it went undetected. And thus, no attempt at NCRB to review its figures, and procedures.
So when Biju Janata Dal MP Tathagata Satpathy asked the government how many people were booked under Section 66A, the then IT minister Ravi Shankar Prasad relied on the same set of NCRB figures. Parliament was told that 4037 cases had been registered by the police under Section 66A in 2014. As it now turns out, this too was an exaggeration.
Since the state crime records bureau also use the same NCRB software, corresponding state-level reports also suffer from the same anomaly vis-a-vis Section 66A.
But this also means that nobody really knows how many people were really sent to jail under the draconian provision in 2014, or 2015.
Problems elsewhere too
NCRB officials have also detected issues with regard to another set of data, but this is on account of faulty reporting by the state police. According to the NCRB report, the courts had compounded hundreds of cases relating murder and rape. If this was true, it too would be in violation of the Supreme Court guidelines that restrict high courts from dismissing heinous criminal cases even if the victim and accused arrive at a compromise. When HT pointed it out, an NCRB official said it could be a mistake in reporting from the states. He said a clarification would be sought from the states.