The cost of crime and criminal justice in India

Measuring the economic consequences of violence is pertinent in developing resilient initiatives and optimally allocating resources. India needs this urgently
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Representational Image. (Shutterstock)
Updated on Aug 27, 2021 03:48 PM IST
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By GS Bajpai

Crime and its management are becoming increasingly costlier. And this impacts us in two ways: First, the cost of managing crime often results in diverting resources, including budgetary allocations from other areas of governance. Second, crime impacts the quality of life and the levels of happiness in society.

Along with its humanitarian costs, internal and external armed conflicts pose a risk to the country’s economic growth and development. Measuring the economic consequences of violence, therefore, becomes pertinent in developing resilient initiatives and optimally allocating resources.

National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data revealed that 120,980 cases of non-heinous crimes were reported in the first quarter of 2021, while the number stood at 111,419 last year. There were 1,217 more cases of snatching reported in 2021 (3,829) compared to 2020 (2,612).

India does not officially estimate the cost of crimes, unlike other countries. For instance, the crime calculator devised in the United States (US) estimates the aggregate cost of six major offences to the tune of $5,176.45, according to RAND, a non-profit research and analysis institution.

Crime and Covid-19

Crime is a major affront to peace in society. In its 2021 report, the Global Peace Index depicts a world in which, despite the hostilities and upheavals of the previous decade having subsided, they have been replaced by a new wave of unrest and instability due to Covid-19 and escalating tensions between several global powers. The index ranked India 135 of 163 nations and reveals critical aspects of India’s evolving security situation as well as their impact on economic growth.

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Over the past year, India’s overall peacefulness has improved by 0.7% (Global Peace Index, 2021), owing to improvements in the arena of ongoing conflict, but the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has been ruinous, with the number of cases across the country prompting repeated lockdowns. According to some estimates, India’s economy contracted by 7.3% in the last year.

The full scale of this pandemic on global peace is still unfolding. It has been observed that while some forms of violence have decreased in the short-term, mounting frustrations, unease and economic instability due to frequent lockdowns have resulted in increased civil and political unrest in India.

Crime and conflict

It is estimated that India lost more than a trillion dollars of its GDP to violence in the past few years. During 2014-2018, the cost of violence incurred by the country went from $177 billion in 2014 to $742 billion in 2016 (Global Peace Index, 2017). India’s security concerns are also exacerbated by the convergence of interests between China and Pakistan. Additionally, the deepening of Chinese influence in Nepal has increased the threat to India’s internal security. The porousness of the border makes cross-border trafficking of contraband, weapons, and personnel relatively easy.

Further, the continued unrest in Kashmir has increased tensions between India and Pakistan in the past few years. The recent incident of drone attacks in Kashmir uncovers a new page in terror tactics. Consequently, the country has seen a gradual increase in the allocation of budget for internal security issues. In the budget released by the Government of India in 2020-2021, $66.9 billion has been set aside for the ministry of defence. It has been observed that the primary contributor to the cost of containing violence is military expenditure. The data published by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute released in April 2021 states that in 2020, India was the third-highest military spender in the world, behind the US and China (SIPRI Report: Trends in World Military Expenditure, April 2021).

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This hefty rise in manpower costs substantially increases the cost of the economic impact of violence and results in concerns about the sustainability of India’s defence modernisation. Lowering the cost of violence can result in a higher peace dividend towards India, but increasing terror attacks on the security forces coupled with geopolitical realities, make the realisation of the dream highly unlikely.

The economics of crime

Contrary to popular belief, Indian states do not spend enough on the criminal justice system. It has been observed that this pandemic has exacerbated the woes of the chronically under-funded justice system in India. It can be observed that the three heads of costs at all levels of governance are: Policing costs, legal and prosecution costs, and prison costs, in addition to many other indirect fallouts of crime. The India Justice Report 2020 shows that the increase in budgets for the police, prisons and the judiciary have not kept pace with the overall increase in state expenditure. Over five years, while police budgets, on average accounted for 3-5% of state expenditure, average prison budgets across states and Union Territories (UTs) stood at only 0.2%.

The cost of crime

According to the India Justice Report, the majority of large and mid-sized states (Bihar and Punjab) spent between 3% and 5% of their overall budget on policing, whereas some states, such as Nagaland, Mizoram, and Manipur, spent as much as 6-13% due to their unique conditions. Goa had the highest growth in the country, exceeding the state’s overall spending by 4.4 percentage points. This means that if Goa’s overall state spending climbed by an average of 12.6% over the five-year period, policing spending grew by an average of 17%. With respect to the prison system, states continue to place a low priority on prison expenditure. Only four of the 16 states/UTs with the highest increase in jail spending. An overall analysis of this report could represent that poor budgeting has resulted in capacity restrictions in the judicial system.

While these inputs present us with a good starting point, detailed studies are required to document the true cost of crime and criminal justice in India. Efforts are underway to revamp the criminal laws of our country. A holistic overhauling of the criminal justice system, however, requires us to develop a better understanding of the cost behind crime and criminal justice. Therefore, a cost of crime calculator based upon scientifically sound methodology is urgently needed for better planning of criminal justice in India.

GS Bajpai is vice-chancellor, Rajiv Gandhi National University of Law, Punjab

The views expressed are personal

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Tuesday, October 19, 2021