30, Sep 2019 | Sushmita
“Maths didn’t help Einstein discover gravity”, said an intelligent man from the ruling party. This man is Piyush Goyal who happens to be the central minister of Railways and Commerce. He was responding to a question on GDP growth rates. In February 2019, merely a few months before the general elections which brought BJP back to power, BJP dismissed an NSSO (National Sample Survey Office) report which said that unemployment was the highest in the past 45 years. Days after coming back to power, the government released the same report.
Several quarters have questioned the delay in the release of data on crimes for months now. National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) has been releasing data on crime, and various categories of sectoral data, since 1953. It releases annual reports on varied subjects related to crime, accidents, prisons etc. These reports contain aggregated data on various crimes, accidents, suicides, prisons etc. up to the district level. As debates evolved, this data even got classified into crimes against India’s most marginalised groups.
Throughout the years, NCRB data, despite some bureaucratic delays and some shortcomings, has been the most important and probably the only concrete and comprehensive data on crimes in India and has been the basis for several policy discussions and discourses. Every time the NCRB reports are released, there are significant public debates on issues such as increasing numbers of crimes against women, farmer suicides, atrocities against people from SC/ST groups.
The NCRB releases 3 reports every year.
What’s in a report and when should we have it?
The data for the annual Crime in India (CII) is provided by the States/UTs in a prescribed format. The data is then compiled by the NCRB in the form of CII, which gives comprehensive data on incidence of crime, disposal of cases by police and courts, crimes against women, children etc.
Reports suggest that CII reports has been released by the NCRB with a delay of about 23 months since the year 1953, with the average delay going at below 11 months year from 2000 onwards. The most significant delay caused in the release of the report was for the year 1984, the year in which the anti-Sikh riots took place. That year 1984’s report was released in 1992 after a significant delay of 86 months. The 1985 report was delayed by more than six years. The 1983 report was delayed by five years. Reportedly, these were the only three occasions in which the reports were released after such a huge gap/ delay. Arguably, the government(s) of the day were not comfortable with the release of hard figures that would confirm the bitter and targeted violence experienced by one of India’s religious minorities, on the streets.
Since 2004, the CII report has been released every year within 12 months. Between 2010 and 2015, this time lag was less than 10 months whereas the 2016 report was released in November 2017, i.e., within 11 months. For the years 2011, 2012 and 2013, the report was released within 6 months. The CII report for the year 2017 is yet to the released, and this is the first occasion since 2004 that the delay in the release of this report has crossed 12 months.
Apart from the CII report, the NCRB also releases the Accidental Deaths and Suicides in India (ADSI) report which has been an important source of data to assess the increasing number of farmers’ suicides apart from other things. As per analyses, the delay in the release of this report has been decreasing over the years. On average, the report has been released within 21 months since 1976. However, since the year 2005, the report has been released within 9 months on average. Both the 1979 and 1985 reports were released after a gap of 40 months, the highest for any year. Since 2010, the report has been released within 7 months on average. For the years 2011, 2012 and 2013, the report was released within 6 months while for the years 2014 & 2015, the report was released within 7 months. Curiously, the 2016 report is yet to be released even after 24 months or two full years.
The third important report that NCRB comes up with is the Prison Statistics India report which provides data on all prisons, occupancy, details of the prisoners etc. This report is being published by the NCRB since 1995. Till the year 2004, this report was released within 24 months on average while the average delay went down to 14 months since 2005. In fact, the average gap has reduced to less than 10 months since 2011. Like the other two reports, even in this case, the 2016 report was released only in April 2019 was released after a delay of more than two and half years.
Is it all about changes in format?
The official justification for this growing delay, by the NCRB officials has been that there has been a change in the proforma format and the subsequent delay by states namely West Bengal and Bihar in submitting their respective reports. NCRB data is compiled from the First Information Reports (FIR)s registered by states.
However, experts and several political leaders believe that the reports have been delayed because the government has been trying to suppress data on issues such as farm distress, farmers; suicides, crimes against women and SC/ST communities, hate crimes against minorities, etc.
Recently, in July 2019, Tamil Nadu, the MP D Ravikumar demanded the publication of NCRB data. The Centre has pinned the responsibility on different states for the delay.
However, this response is nothing short of hypocritical.
As per a Quint report, the government “evaded” questions on recent crime data 22 times in the July 2019, Parliament session. It said, “There have been at least 27 questions asked to the government (for which answers are available as of 3 July 2019) about statistics on crimes, farmer suicides and accidental deaths. Among these, 24 questions have specifically asked for the statistics from the last three years (in some, the last four or five years, including 2019). Only two of those questions (nos. 567 and 1606) have been answered by the government – on the seizure of fake currency – quoting data held by the NCRB.”
In its response to question no. 1623, on whether the rate of suicides in India has gone up in the last three years, the Ministry of Home Affairs did not just provide its stock answer of the NCRB data only being available till 2015, instead, in response to this question and its specific timeframe, it said that, “The data maintained by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) does not show any such trend.”
The government, also, once again dodged the question on numbers and instead referred to the 2015 report. On the other hand, the government does seem to have data on fake currency. Like the NCRB’s ‘Crime in India’ report, no official report on fake currency seized has been published since 2016. And yet, the government can provide this information till as recently as two weeks ago. Clearly the data exists, it is sharing it with Parliament and citizens that is the problem.
What is the government holding back?
Even a rather mainstream media organisation India Today—not known for being critical of the government–has claimed to have learned that the MHA “is holding the report back”. India Today reported, “According to the sources, the report was sent to the MHA in April, 2018. NCRB, had earlier said that the ADSI report’s release was due in “the third or last week of December 2018”. When asked the Ministry of Home Affairs responded to India Today TV stating data from several states is incorrect and incomplete; and that the NCRB is still in the process of collecting it!
Meanwhile, the government has continued releasing data in bits and pieces. As per an affidavit submitted by the Union of India to the Supreme Court on July 6, 2017, about 12,602 farmers and cultivators committed suicide in the year 2015. Of this, 4,291 farmers committed suicide in Maharashtra having the highest suicide rate.
Karnataka was second on the list with 1,569 farmers followed by Telangana marked at 1,400 and Madhya Pradesh at 1,290. The government stated that according to the ‘provisional’ data that had been collected by the NCRB for 2016, farmers’ suicide numbers across India had already reached 11,458. But, this does not mean that the numbers have declined.
This is the case when the data for several states was still under classification.
Earlier, in January 2019, RTI activist, Jitendra Ghadge had said that the “real reason” for delaying the release of the reports seemed to be “political and not technical”. He had said, “I can understand the delay in releasing the 2017 report, but why is the NCRB reconfirming the ADSI (accidental deaths an d suicides in India) data of 2016 with the states and UT’s? It’s seems the government does not want figures of farmer suicides going public.”
A report published in Business Today in April 2019 said, “The obvious reason is that the government does not want the bitter truth to come out.” The report highlighted that going by the 2015 report, as a percentage of the total, farmer suicides had gone up. It also highlighted the fact that the primary reason for farmers’ suicides was ‘bankruptcy or indebtedness’ (38.7%), followed by ‘farming related issues’ (19.5%) in 2015.
According to the All India Rural Financial Inclusion Survey 2016-17 by NABARD, the average indebtedness of an indebted agricultural household is Rs 1.05 lakh. In the 2019-20 budget, the government announced Rs 6,000 for small and marginal farmers – a small fraction of Rs 1.05 lakh of indebtedness – but there was no mention of indebtedness or suicides.
This attitude indicates that not only does the government want to do anything about the problems but also does not allow others to do anything about it.
Questioning the government’s opacity regarding economic statistics, 108 economists and social scientists from across the world said: “This is the time for all professional economists, statisticians, independent researchers in policy – regardless of their political and ideological leanings – to come together to raise their voice against the tendency to suppress uncomfortable data…”
The NCRB data isn’t full-proof and suffers from several inconsistencies. For example, NCRB was compelled to use the population projections from 2001 as the Registrar General of India (RGI) failed to release the population projections based on 2011. This means relying on a population projection that is as many as 20 years behind the actual population. This means the crime rate which is calculated on the basis of population will be much lesser than the what it should be.
Similarly, the NCRB, in 2015 decided to do away with the data on representation of Muslims in Police force. The reason for this was again given as due to changes in the proforma. The representation of Muslims in the force was falling as per previous years’ reports. Similarly, the 2016 Prison Statistics of India, released only in April 2019, after an inexplicable delay, omitted data on caste and religion of prison inmates. Human rights groups have for a long time highlighted how Adivasis, Muslims and Dalits are kept in prisons as under-trials for long periods in the absence of any legal aid, only to be acquitted after they’ve lost several years.
Distaste for Data?
The United States has the Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program whose 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.
However, we are living in a country whose government (including governments in the past) that not only rubbishes an entire subject, but also has shown clear distaste for any data that’s opposed to its claims of ‘development’. Far from acknowledging any criticism or problems, this government believes in suppressing data. This is not going to take the country anywhere.
Labelling criticisms as “political propaganda” will not eventually reduce the number of crimes. It is now incumbent on the government to release the crime data so that the people can make up their own minds and do what they can to help the situation.