Why India has a ‘low’ crime rate

While Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands display high numbers of criminal activity, India stands with Yemen and Lebanon in the lower zone.

Written by Deeptiman Tiwary | Updated: January 12, 2016 10:17 am
(Illustration by: C R Sasikumar) In the year following the December 16, 2012, gang rape of a student, Delhi was declared the most dangerous city for women in India. (Illustration by: C R Sasikumar)

Last month, when women and child development minister Maneka Gandhi was pushing through amendments to Juvenile Justice Act in Parliament that would lower the age of culpability as an adult from 18 to 16, she cited a rising number of crimes by juveniles. In the year following the December 16, 2012, gang rape of a student, Delhi was declared the most dangerous city for women in India as it witnessed a 350 per cent rise in rapes over 2012, according to National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB).

In 2007, the Samajwadi Party went to Assembly polls with an ad campaign where it claimed that crime was very low in Uttar Pradesh. The advertisement, featuring Amitabh Bachchan, cited NCRB figures with the slogan: “UP mein hai dum, Kyonki jurm yahan hai kam” (Uttar Pradesh is strong because there is little crime here).

These proclamations beg the obvious question: Does rising crime graph as visible in data mean deteriorating law and order and vice versa? If international data on crime is analysed, it shows that countries perceived to have better systems of law and order also have high rates of crimes (number of crimes per 1 lakh population), while countries with dysfunctional governance, most of the times, display low rates of crimes.

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According to United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) data, on seven counts of serious crimes — which include murder, rape, sexual violence, assault, kidnapping, burglary and theft — Sweden (with 6,456 crimes per 1 lakh population), Denmark (6,041) and the Netherlands (5,523) have high rates of crimes.

indiaThe countries with low rates of crimes are Somalia (1.5), Iraq (2), Libya (2.9) and Haiti (5). It would be naive to argue that Somalia is safer than Sweden. India’s crime rate (87) itself compares with that of Lebanon (59), Yemen (67) and Kazakhstan (96). Within India, Kerala, considered to be a better policed state has one of the highest crime rates, while UP, whose poor law and order issues often hit headlines, has one of the lowest.

Why is it so? The answer lies in the response of government and civil society to crime data and how sense of law and order in India is measured solely through registered crimes.

As soon as crime graph of a particular region, as reflected in data, rises, the minister responsible reprimands the concerned officer. The officer, in turn, tries his best to keep the numbers to the lowest. One of the ways this is allegedly done is by refusing FIRs.

Former Director General of Police (DGP) of UP and police reforms crusader Prakash Singh narrates an interesting anecdote. “When I was a young Superintendent of Police (SP) in UP, the then principal secretary (home) BJ Khodaiji, on instructions from the government, issued an order. It said that crime should be brought down by 50 per cent. Since it was not possible, officers resorted to burking i.e. non-registration of FIR. Later when Mayawati came to power, she asked for crime to be reduced by 70 per cent. At least half a dozen officers were suspended as they could not score more than a 30 per cent drop,” says Singh.

aNon-registration of FIRs was reflected as a chronic problem of policing in as many as four presentations at the conference of DGPs of state and Central police force in Bhuj, Gujarat, last month. One shortlisted presentation, by UP cadre IPS officer Rajeev Krishna, claims that only 9-21 per cent of all crimes in India get registered by police. According to Krishna, who has arrived at the figures by applying International Crime Survey Data to Indian scenario, 30 per cent people never report a crime to the authorities, while over 50 per cent are turned away by the police.

A 2003 crime victimisation survey conducted in Tamil Nadu by noted criminologist K Chockalingam found that only 4 per cent of sexual offence victims report the crime.

In a judgment on November 12, 2013, a five-judge Supreme Court bench headed by then Chief Justice of India P Sathasivam, said, “Burking of crime leads to dilution of the rule of law in the short run; and also has a very negative impact on rule of law in the long run since people stop having respect for rule of law.” In his detailed presentation, that quotes the UNODC data and the SC order cited above, Krishna proposes changes in laws and systems that he claims would not only make police more efficient but also transparent.

Some of the suggestions made by Krishna include legal recognition of calls made to Dial 100 (police control room) as FIRs, statutory status to crime victimisation survey, digital recording of complaints and oral evidence and step-by-step tracking of investigations through technological interventions.

“In developed countries in Europe and the Americas, governments regularly conduct crime victimisation survey (CVS) to get a sense of the level of crime in a region or state. The difference between survey results and crimes actually registered are taken seriously and the attempt is to minimise the gap. No such system exists in India,” said Krishna.

A proposal sent by Bureau of Police Research and Development (BPR&D) to the home ministry recommending CVS has been gathering dust over the past several months.

The consequence is that policies to combat crimes are formulated on the basis of limited data of registered crimes only and thus fail to have desired results.

“If all crimes are registered, realistic patterns can be drawn and preventive measures taken accordingly,” said Krishna who argued that rule of law is just as important for the country’s GDP. Krishna cites a survey conducted by The Economist Intelligence Unit among 301 top executives of Forbes 500 companies. The survey held that rule of law (88 per cent) was the third most important consideration for companies after ‘stable political environment’ (92 per cent) and ‘ease of doing business’ (92 per cent).

Krishna’s suggestion of Dial 100 calls to be registered as FIRs, however, poses the formidable challenge of investigating such huge number of crimes by an overburdened police. The presentation provides for checks in the form of elimination of cases that do not need investigation or have no evidence at a preliminary stage and making the offence of knowingly lodging a false complaint cognisable. According to experts, only in India, once a case is registered, it always lands up in court. In most countries there is a system of screening to reduce the number of cases that are chargesheeted or prosecuted after chargesheeting. The Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) even has a provision for this under Section 157. But NCRB data shows that this section has been invoked in only 0.03 per cent cases in 2014.

Former DG of BPR&D NR Wasan said, “In UK, if your vehicle is stolen from an unauthorised parking, the police does not investigate the case. But greater emphasis is laid on violation of personal liberty. Thus if you are robbed or raped, it will always be registered and investigated.” Krishna has also suggested a string of technological interventions, at a total cost of less than Rs 1,000 crore, to help meet the expectations arising out of better registration of FIRs. These include up-gradation of police control room with police specific call centre software which is compatible with CCTNS and acceptance of electronic case diaries in courts under Evidence Act.

That 94 per cent of investigation time is wasted in writing case diaries and recording statements, is an argument in favour of technological solutions and better policing.

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  1. G
    ganesh
    Feb 22, 2017 at 7:15 am
    I read somewhere that 50% of reported cases in delhi are fake. its impossible to find the real crime number anywhere in the world.
    Reply
    1. R
      Rajesh
      Jan 12, 2016 at 8:47 am
      What idiocy? In In those countries with good systems most crimes are reported, while in India they are not, and sometimes when they are no FIR is filed. It doesnt mean the crime rate is lower.
      Reply
      1. R
        Rayene Wilson
        Jan 12, 2016 at 11:09 am
        Nice article. But have a look on recent statistics of crime rates before writing an article. by_country.jsp
        Reply
        1. d
          dv1936
          Jan 12, 2016 at 3:31 am
          Everybody knows that most crimes are not reported and even when reported are not registered. Why bother about statistics which do represent the truth.
          Reply
          1. K
            karunakarnarayan
            Jan 12, 2016 at 6:17 am
            do not know about the political crimes --and high crime rates of the rich and famous --but petty crime like bag snatching in railway stations and public places are much higher in Europe than in India. If you are not careful with your handbags you can be sure to lose it in Europe. Always done in tandem and real professionals and indians tend to lose it very often as we are not so careful, we think the white man is no thief but they are along with their middle eastern guests.
            Reply
            1. J
              JoeKidd
              Jan 12, 2016 at 3:16 am
              In countries where citizens know that reporting crime will be of no user, will cost him money, or will cause him to be hared even more, will not report such crimes. This leads to unusually low volumes of reported crime. It does not actually mean that the place is peaceful. Quoting such figures is quite a joke.
              Reply
              1. R
                Raj
                Jan 12, 2016 at 1:32 pm
                Shows that when a politician asks for reducing crime, the police get the hint that the criminals should be given a free hand to execute their crimes. Therefore no crimes are registered. This despite the fact that the ruling cl has consistently made sure that the police force is undermanned and under trained in any investigative skills. The recruitments in judiciary are also kept pending for so many years that the vacancies have increased.
                Reply
                1. R
                  Ranjeet
                  Jan 12, 2016 at 12:14 pm
                  We are upper middle cl family in Bangalore our house was robbed when my parents were away My sister went to the police station to file a complaint the cops refused to register a complain This was 2 years ago Do you expect Somalia , Libya and other 3rd world countries has low crime rate
                  Reply
                  1. R
                    Rufusd
                    Jan 12, 2016 at 2:43 pm
                    I hope that the Khondwa police in Pune would arrest me for calling them names like 'cheap chors". That is what they are. It is a pity that the TOI does not allow photographs to be appended to our comments
                    Reply
                    1. R
                      Rufusd
                      Jan 12, 2016 at 2:40 pm
                      When your comment is under moderation you can be sure that it will not be posted
                      Reply
                      1. R
                        Rufusd
                        Jan 12, 2016 at 10:06 am
                        A thousand years back when our Brahmins had already given the world the science of astronomy, the ancestors of Denmark were still cannibals. Human meat was being sold in shops. Now?!!! Don't blame it on Christianity.
                        Reply
                        1. R
                          Rufusd
                          Jan 12, 2016 at 12:10 pm
                          I am going to post photographs of illegal activities that take place in my housing society (Sarvodaya Housing Society, NIBM Road, Khondwa Khurd, Pune). The chairman is of the idea that the local police are in his pockets. The best police in India are the journalists!
                          Reply
                          1. R
                            Rufusd
                            Jan 12, 2016 at 12:04 pm
                            I was arrested by the police for filing a complaint against the illegal lowering of the plinth level of a shop in Sarvodaya Housing Society, NIBM Road, Khondwa, Pune. The same $hit took place during the Lok Sabah elections in 2014. This took place adjacent to the office of a PMC corporator which is situated in our society.
                            Reply
                            1. R
                              Rufusd
                              Jan 12, 2016 at 9:57 am
                              India has a low crime rate because of the bribe-able police. Also, they are overworked. You are invited to my housing society to see how crime rules, The address is Sarvodaya Housing Society, NIBM Road, Pune.
                              Reply
                              1. R
                                Rufusd
                                Jan 12, 2016 at 10:01 am
                                India has a low crime rate because of the bribe-able police. Also, they are overworked. You are invited to my housing society to see how crime rules, The address is Sarvodaya Housing Society, NIBM Road, Pune. The present chairman has inconvenienced people by locking a gate because it abuts his tea shop. The sad fact is that nobody has the guts to stand up to this gunda-giri
                                Reply
                                1. S
                                  sky
                                  Jan 12, 2016 at 4:12 am
                                  pe e brain report by a
                                  Reply
                                  1. S
                                    Sanchayan Sarkar
                                    Jan 24, 2016 at 10:25 am
                                    None of the Indian Data is reliable . I am working in Big Data projects and I have seen much of the hospital Data , Polica Data is not reliable enough . That is why the accuracy is far off from the reality because algorithms are modelled on the available data. If the nature of the data changes the accuracy falls because such adjustments had not been made . If there is any people interested in Statistical Survey of any kind , please don't just check in the official records. Try to talk with the people and note something so that it can be taken while forming analysis systems . Even the potion count of India is not reliable . I doubt the survey is 75% reliable
                                    Reply
                                    1. S
                                      Sathish
                                      Jan 12, 2016 at 3:05 am
                                      Crime rate figures is given by criminals to mega-criminals (UN agencies)!!!
                                      Reply
                                      1. S
                                        Sathish
                                        Jan 12, 2016 at 2:44 am
                                        Low crime rate? This w democracy is a crime! Criminals nexus of politicians, police, judges and media are rampaging this society using demoncrazy!
                                        Reply
                                        1. S
                                          Sathish
                                          Jan 12, 2016 at 3:43 am
                                          you have to report crimes to criminals!! DemonCrazy continues!
                                          Reply
                                          1. C
                                            Curious onlooker
                                            Jan 12, 2016 at 3:11 am
                                            The w world know India is the Center for all crimes: Human rights violations, murders, thievery, child abuse, rapes, violence, intolerance, caste segregation, not to mention political and religious crimes. Low FIRs did not mean crimes were fewer.
                                            Reply
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