Policing for a better future

Policing for a better future
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First Published: Thu, Feb 05 2009. 11 05 PM IST

Photograph: Gurinder Osan / AP
Photograph: Gurinder Osan / AP
Updated: Thu, Feb 05 2009. 11 05 PM IST
The terrorist attacks in Mumbai have caused great consternation. There is a flurry of activity following the public outrage at the impunity of the attackers and dismal state of preparedness of the Indian state. While revamping the intelligence agencies and other urgent steps announced by the government are necessary, they are liable to have limited success in the absence of a sound basic policing system.
Photograph: Gurinder Osan / AP
Increasing criminal activity and organized crime, be it criminal gang activity in urban centres or Naxalite activity in non-urban parts of the country, impose enormous social and economic costs on the state. The Mumbai terrorist attacks are a telling example of events designed to strangle India’s economic rise and disrupt its social cohesion.
In today’s environment, policing is arguably the most important factor in ensuring the social and economic security of a nation. The government should revisit the 1950 resolution that set up the Planning Commission. One of the functions of the commission outlined there is to “indicate the factors which are tending to retard economic development, and determine the conditions which, in view of the current social and political situation, should be established for the successful execution of the Plan.”
The commission started with undertaking planning for the core sectors such as agriculture, education and industry, but it has since moved on to other sectors that include information technology and women’s empowerment. While government plans have evolved to cover many fledgling sectors, there has been no effort to look into the social and economic security aspects of planning. Policing continues, as hitherto, to be classified as non-Plan revenue expenditure by the Government of India.
Social and economic security needs to be immediately adopted as one of the Plan sectors by the commission. This sector should set national objectives and provide assured resources—funds, manpower, equipment and training—for policing and encompass crimes, crimogens, criminal justice system (CJS), police organization, correctional services and judicial service.
There have been incessant calls to discard the archaic system of centralized planning and the distinction between Plan and non-Plan accounting, which has many drawbacks. In the present scheme of things, however, a Plan scheme acquires priority and urgency by virtue of being a Plan item of expenditure. A very elaborate process governs the fixing of Plan expenditure by the government and the commission. Non-Plan expenditure suffers from a lack of cost consciousness, no medium-term perspective for continuing activities and allocations, lack of macropolicy knowledge at the level where budget estimates are made and lack of feedback on performance and results. The underlying logic of identifying and channelling resources into core sectors through planned expenditures will provide policing with the necessary legitimacy, urgency and impetus in the present government set-up.
Information underpins all planning. At present, the only source of information about crimes in the country are the statistics collected by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB). However, these statistics have severe limitations as all crimes are not reported to the police and, as often alleged, if reported, many are not even registered by the police. In most developed countries, an annual Crime Victimization Survey is conducted to give a more realistic and actionable picture of crime—estimate the number and types of crimes not reported to the police, identify people most at risk, and map public attitude towards crime and towards the CJS.
These surveys are found to be a very important source of information about crime levels and public attitude to crime. In 2005-06, only 42% of crimes reported during the British Crime Survey (BCS) were reported to police and only 30% were recorded by the police. BCS thus provides the British government with an important alternative to police-recorded crime statistics. Without BCS, the British government would have no information on the 70% of crimes which go unreported. BCS further identifies those most at risk due to different types of crime. This is used to design and inform crime prevention programmes and assess public attitudes towards crime and the CJS.
It can be safely assumed that the number of unreported and unregistered crime in India is much more than the 70% in the UK. In the absence of realistic data on crime, all attempts at planning for policing in India will be an exercise in futility. A survey to ascertain the real state of crime in the country by conducting an annual crime survey has to be topmost on any planner’s agenda. The author, as head of NCRB, had proposed that the government start an Indian Crime Survey, which could be conducted by the National Statistical Survey Organisation.
The main purpose of planning is to prepare to meet the future challenges for policing, which need to be taken into account while ensuring social and economic security. There is a need for reliable and comprehensive data on crime in India that should sustain an empirical approach towards planning. Policing has been a non-Plan subject in this country since independence. This nation can continue this policy of having policing as a non-Plan subject only at its peril and at enormous costs—economic, social and emotional.
Ramavtar Yadav is a retired director general of police, Andhra Pradesh, and headed NCRB from 2002 to 2006. Sushant K. Singh is associated with Pragati—The Indian National Interest Review. Comments are welcome at theirview@livemint.com
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First Published: Thu, Feb 05 2009. 11 05 PM IST