India’s Contentious Crime Statistics

What should we know to make our crime statistics reliable?

 

The credibility of the National Crime Records Bureau’s (NCRB) statistics is perennially doubted in this country, especially since the late 1990s, when the numbers began revealing declining trends in the incidence of crime per lakh population. With the recent release of the NCRB’s Crime in India 2017, this mistrust has only exacerbated. First, due to the timing of the release of the report, which, following the NCRB’s conventional practice of annual release for almost six decades now, should have been released in 2017. Second, during this hiatus in publicising the annual crime statistics of 2017, the bureau did not come up with convincing responses to the right to information applications seeking the reasons for this undue delay. Third, and specifically in light of the first two reasons, it is not unusual that a staggering 33% decline in the crime rate within half a decade—from 576.99 in 2010 to 388.6 in 2017—is appearing unfounded to many. An intuitive argument is that neither the current demographic transition nor the economic transformation seem to provide conducive conditions for such a decline.

Crime declines in India, however, are in tandem with the global trend of “crime drop”—observed mostly in the industrialised countries since the 1990s—that has not only been well-documented, but also much debated. While concurrence (or the lack of it) regarding the veracity of such crime-drop statistics is usually facilitated by corroborative (or divergent) estimates from other data sources (such as the United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute’s International Crime ­Victims Surveys [ICVS]), in most of these countries, the process of ratification is taken a step ahead by the academic discourses that explore the drivers underlying the drop. In the Indian case, the very basic verification of official crime statistics is impaired by the dearth of alternative benchmarks. Whatever little was available, such as the only ICVS conducted in 1992, had generated victimisation estimates that were way higher than comparable official estimates of crime rates for that year.

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Updated On : 22nd Nov, 2019

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