Ramesh Sippy had his dacoits. Vittorio de Sica had his bicycle thieves. Their cinematic appeal has stood the test of time. But dacoits and bicycle thieves have lost ground in the real world.

Like all crime, thieves and their acts attract a lot of attention in any society. What can one say about stealing in India? What is the modus operandi, the items stolen and where are they stolen from? Has the nature of goods stolen changed with the radical transformation India’s economy has undergone as a result of economic reforms? How much of the stolen value is recovered? Are some regions more unsafe than others? Mint looked at the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data to answer some of these questions.

The Indian Penal Code classifies acts of stealing under four categories: dacoity (sections 395, 396 and 398), robbery (sections 392-394, 397, 398), criminal trespass/burglary (section 457-460) and theft (section 379-382). Robbery is an act with intent to steal somebody’s property by coercion and causing injury. When five or more people are involved in robbery, it amounts to dacoity. Theft is an act of stealing somebody’s property without consent. Theft involving a housebreak is described as burglary.

NCRB gives data on the number of incidents reported and the value of money stolen under each of these categories.

An analysis of the number of incidents and the value stolen by type of crime shows that the share of dacoities has come down overtime, while thefts have increased. As is expected, a broadly similar pattern can be seen for the share in the value of property stolen. What stands out though is a smaller share of theft in the value of property stolen in comparison to its share in the number of incidents. Compared to 68% share in the incidents reported, theft accounts for 56% of the total value of property stolen. This means that the average amount of value stolen in thefts is smaller in comparison to other three types of crimes.

In 1990, cycles had the biggest share in the number of incidents classified by nature of property stolen. Cycles have made way for motorcycles and scooters now. In terms of value of property stolen, motor cars and other vehicles (except two-wheelers) have the largest share. The share of cattle stolen has fallen both in terms of the number of incidents and the value of property during 1990-2014.

Houses are the most unsafe places. An analysis of the number of incidents by place of occurrence shows residential premises to be the single-largest category. Over time, the share of residential premises has come down, while that of transport (highway, river and sea, railway) has gone up.

How are things different across states? Between 2001 and 2013, Maharashtra had the highest all-India share in both the number of incidents and the value stolen. In 2014, Delhi jumped to the first place in terms of the share in the number of incidents suddenly, although not in terms of the share in value stolen.

Prakash Singh, a former DGP of police in Uttar Pradesh, says the increase in the number of incidents involving transport is a reflection of the increase in the number of vehicles. Delhi showing a sudden increase in the number of incidents might be a result of prompt registration of complaints by the Delhi Police under the present police commissioner, said Singh. Such statistical jumps underline the need to observe caution in comparing state-wise trends. Any meaningful comparison would also have to account for differences in per capita income and population.

What are the chances a stolen property would be recovered? Between 1990 and 2014, 1999 had the highest recovery rate, while 2012 had the worst. There is no clear trend. It was around 20% in 2014.

So, out of every 100 which is stolen, only 20 would come back to you. And it can happen anywhere. As they say, better be safe than sorry.

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