Why India needs timely crime data

Updated on Sep 24, 2019 08:49 PM IST

The NCRB has not published its annual report on crime for 2017 and 2018. This is unacceptable

The NCRB would do well in present times to start compiling data on mob lynching and cow vigilantism cases(REUTERS)
The NCRB would do well in present times to start compiling data on mob lynching and cow vigilantism cases(REUTERS)
ByYashovardhan Azad

The Crime in India reports for the years 2017 and 2018 have not yet seen the light of day. The 2016 data was placed in the public domain at the end of 2017. The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), under the Union ministry of home affairs, brings out this annual comprehensive statistics of crime across the country. Being published since 1953, the report serves as a crucial tool in understanding the law and order situation across all 29 States and seven Union Territories.

The NCRB has not even released its annual report on Accidental Deaths and Suicides in India (ADSI) for the year 2016, a crucial source for data on farmer suicides — an issue of serious concern. In response to an application filed under the Right to Information Act, which sought “farmers’ suicides data for the whole country from 2016 to 2018 and the reasons for not making them public”, the bureau replied saying that “data for accidental deaths and suicides for 2016 is under finalisation”.

The NCRB has been reporting the numbers of farmer suicides unfailingly from 1995 to 2015 as a part of the annual report on ADSI for the whole country.

When the matter was raised in Parliament this July, G Kishan Reddy, minister of state for home, said that the Crime in India report for 2017 had not yet been finalised by the NCRB. With a view to ensure that the published data suits the requirement of various stakeholders, NCRB had revised the pro forma for collecting crime statistics. The bureau had trained state and Union Territory personnel on the new format. However, the data in the revised pro forma had not been received from all States/Union Territories, the minister added.

Democracy demands honest communication and transparency. Considerable delay in providing key information to the public can make a dent in the credibility of the government. People deserve to be informed about crucial data that etches the blueprint of their future. It is even more urgent to place facts and figures, when harsh and unflattering, in the public domain.

The annual data relating to various crimes and incidents, released by the NCRB, is of immense importance to the police, government, civil society, among others, for tracing the crime map of the country, studying its implications, and charting out the future course of action.

It also comes out with some key statistics, enabling an in-depth study by our social planners. These include hate crimes, acid attacks against women, child trafficking, custodial deaths, prison statistics, caste and communal violence, and crimes against Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes. It was the NCRB data in 2016, which revealed that South India was catching up with the North, in respect of hate crimes. Responding to changing social dynamics, compilation of acid attack cases was started after Delhi gangrape case, 2013. The NCRB would do well in present times to start compiling data on mob lynching and cow vigilantism cases too.

Mature democracies do not conceal their data from citizens, or allow considerable delays in reporting. Take the United States. where the Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program’s primary objective since 1930 is to generate reliable statistics on crime under the aegis of Federal Bureau of Investigation. Today, four annual publications are produced on time based on data received from more than 18,000 city, county, state, and federal law enforcement agencies, all of which voluntarily participate in the programme.

India will play a proactive role in the emerging world order as a key player. This makes it more incumbent on the country to cope with the increasing demand of transparency pertaining to well-researched data. This will serve as the North Star in charting out its growth. With new technologies, an accurate database, and coordinated effort on the part of various states, heinous crimes and those having interstate ramifications can be fought successfully. The NCRB has actually been doing just that.

Crime in India is a leading social indicator linked with citizen safety. Over the years, it has become the principal reference document for accurate and reliable information on crimes and criminals, for researchers, criminologists, and officials of criminal justice delivery system in the country. It is also used by ministry of home affairs /state governments in framing public policies.

Hence, time is an essence of its publication along with reliability. Timely publication of crime statistics will end the uncertainty and mistrust that comes with information gap in a democracy. With delay, on the other hand, the rot will start running deep and go metastatic.

Yashovardhan Azad is former IPS and Central Information Commissioner
The views expressed are personal
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