In response to a Rajya Sabha query on growing crime in Delhi, the minister of state for home affairs, Hansraj Gangaram Ahir, said last Wednesday that “the trend of crime has shown decline under various categories" due to proactive crime preventive strategies by the Delhi Police. Ahir also reeled off statistics showing that “heinous crimes" had registered a decline in recent years. The Delhi Police lists dacoity, murder, attempt to murder, robbery, riot, kidnapping for ransom and rape as heinous crimes.
Ahir’s submission raises two questions. First, is Delhi really witnessing a turnaround in crime? And second, is the turnaround because of better policing?
Data culled from two sources—the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) which provides crime data till 2015, and from the Delhi Police which provides data for more recent months—shows that there has been a marginal decline in the incidents of major or heinous crimes in 2016 as compared to the year-ago period. But when one looks at the data for a slightly longer period, the incidence of crimes last year appears far higher than what it was even five years ago.
As the chart shows, Delhi is far from a turnaround even when one goes by the official crime figures. If Ahir had looked at data for a longer time horizon, perhaps he too would have arrived at different conclusions.
Even when one looks at the rate of major crimes after normalizing with respect to population, one finds that the crime rate has risen over the past half-a-decade in all categories of major crimes barring murder.
The population figures used to calculate the crime rates have been derived from census figures. It has been assumed that the male and female populations grew at the same rate post-2011 as they did between the 2001 and 2011 censuses. Compared to the national average, Delhi has a far higher crime rate, a comparison based on NCRB figures for 2015 shows. The overall crime rate in Delhi at 10,555 per million was significantly higher than the all-India crime rate of 2282.7. The rate of rapes at 247 per million (female population) was also much higher than the all-India rate of 55 per million in 2015.
To be sure, official crime statistics suffer from an under-reporting bias and this may vary from state to state depending on the nature of the crimes. Therefore it also makes sense to gauge the extent of under-reporting through independent surveys.
One recent large-scale survey by the IDFC Institute, which polled people across major Indian cities, found that there was widespread under-reporting of crime across the four cities surveyed: Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Bengaluru. But Delhi, in particular, had the worst record when it came to registering first information reports (FIRs). The proportion of victims who were able to register FIRs in the capital was the lowest among the four cities at 16%.
The IDFC Institute study, titled “Safety Trends and Reporting of Crime", is based on a survey of 20,597 households across the four cities, which asked people questions about their experience of crime, and experience with the police, between October 2015 and September 2016.
An in-depth ground report on one of Delhi’s most crime-infested parts published last week by Mint also suggests rampant under-reporting of crime in the capital.
All the evidence points only in one direction: the official crime figures in Delhi are seriously underestimating the actual incidence of crime in the city. Both the home ministry and the Delhi Police, which reports to it, need to do a lot more before patting themselves on the back for better policing and crime prevention in Delhi.