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NCRB crime data is a farce. This is what needs to be done to stop burking

Police performance is judged on the basis of the number of crimes reported. It helps to under-report numbers.

Most people know how difficult it is to get the police to register a FIR. A direct impact of the police making the process cumbersome is that many people do not report most crimes.

Section 154 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) mandates a FIR be recorded by the police when the first information of a crime is given to them.

A Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court in Lalita Kumari vs Govt of UP case held that the registration of an FIR is mandatory if the information discloses that a cognisable offence has been committed and no preliminary inquiry is permissible in such a situation. The FIR is the instrument which gives the police the authority to investigate. When FIR is not registered, the rule of law suffers.

People generally blame individual police officials whom they meet at the police station when their FIRs are not filed. They blame it on the cussedness or corruption of the individual officer. Little do they realise that the individual officer is the victim of a ‘system’. The ‘system’ has for decades said that if the number of crimes goes up, the police are to be blamed.

Both media and general public blame the police when the crime chart climbs. The truth is that crime is more a function of various social, political and economic factors and to some extent, also a reflection of the criminal justice system, which certainly includes the judiciary.

It has been erroneous to judge police performance on the basis of crime graphs. We have been using the wrong measure for decades and hence creating a system that encourages dishonesty and corruption. There are better methods such as Crime Victimisation Surveys to measure police performance.

Information released by the Mumbai Police in response to a Right to Information (RTI) query filed by me shows that in 1970, the number of cognisable crimes registered in Mumbai city was 35,802, while in 2016, the number was only 39,350.

Mumbai’s population has more than doubled in this period. The numbers do not reflect the actual crime situation but is the consequence of an unwritten policy across our country to ensure that the crimes registered do not go up significantly, so that the performance of police and the government does not look bad.

It is worth comparing the data on cognisable crimes in India with some other countries. As per Nation Master, the crime rate per 1,000 people was 78.89 in Germany, 41.24 in USA, 109.96 in the UK, 42.23 in Canada and Switzerland and 31.6 in Sweden.

In India, our recorded crime rate is a mere 1.64 per 1,000 people. These data make it look like we are living in Ram Rajya in India. The truth, however, is far removed.

Once a system accepts underreporting of crime — known as burking in police parlance — it sets the ground for dishonesty and corruption. For many decades, the police officials have been told to ensure a limit on the crimes registered. They are held responsible and penalised if the numbers rise.

Our crime figures are a big lie, which we have been blindly believing year after year. This is a systemic problem and no individual can be blamed for it.

Former cabinet secretary TSR Subramanian has written, “The target is not the reduction in crimes committed, but reducing the number of crimes registered.”

A demand must be made to follow the law and register every crime which is reported. Asking the police to keep the crime figures low makes the police act arbitrarily and in a dishonest and corrupt manner.

Many police officers I have spoken to accept the reality of burking, but won’t do so on record. There is a simple solution. Indian citizens and media must recognise that police performance cannot be measured by number of crimes.

According to law, when a police official refuses to file an FIR, the victim can approach a magistrate under Section 156 (3), who may direct the police to do so. In order to create deterrence, the court should issue directives to initiate action against all such officials.

Another simple method would be to have an agency to register reports of crimes. Such an agency could forward all complaints to the police. Unless this is done, we will not be able to resolve the institutionalised corruption in our police force.

We cannot expect good performance from police after institutionalising dishonesty. This can change fairly easily and would help us become a better nation based on a rule of law.

Police officials, media and citizens across the nation also need to acknowledge the truth and come together to end burking. There is no other way to achieve this.

Also read: Mukherjee Nagar: If you arrest cops over those who threaten them with swords, forget about law and order

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