NCRB Report: In a Democracy, Unflattering Data Must Come to Fore
Democracy demands transparency. Unflattering information needs to come to the fore, to help policy planners.
The National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB) data on 2017 crime statistics has finally been released by the government after a delay of one year, yet it has failed to live up to expectations. The data is too little and too late.
Ideally the annual crime statistics for 2017 and 2018 should have also been out by now. In a digital age, time is of the essence. It is the latest crime data which gives clarity of vision and a broad perspective to the policy planners and the public alike.
NCRB information, as an aggregation of data alone, does not mean much, unless it is sliced thin to be more meaningful.
The devil lies in the detail. Only if one disaggregates the data in a detailed order, the grey scale statistics come alive, and the social fault line emerges with the breakups as the game-changers.
Democracy Demands Transparency; Unflattering Data Must Come to Fore
As part of a data revamp exercise, NCRB’s former director is said to have revised the pro forma under the category of ‘murder’ and proposed new sub-heads of ‘mob lynching’, ‘murder by influential people’, ‘killings ordered by khap panchayat’, ‘murder committed for religious reasons’, among others . The new report is, however, silent on such distinctions.
It must be said to their credit however that some new useful sub-heads have been included, like ‘circulation of fake news’, ‘cases under prevention of corruption act’, ‘defacement of public property’, ‘sexual harassment of women at their workplace’, etc. ‘Cyber-stalking against women’ is again a useful category, which revealed that maximum such cases took place in Maharashtra.
Democracy demands honest communication and transparency. The unflattering part of the information needs to come to the fore, helping the policy planners take action at the right places.
It is even more urgent to place facts and figures, when harsh, in the public domain. It is in this context that data on ‘khap panchayat killings’, ‘mob lynchings’, and ‘murders committed on religious grounds’, would be greatly helpful to both the policy planners and the public. The official reason attributed to not putting out this data is because the statistics received from states appeared ‘unreliable’, and could be open to misinterpretation.
To a certain extent this could be true, since some states may not like to project the true figures of hate crimes. So both the Centre and the states have to share the blame for not sharing data on hate crimes with the public.
Slicing, Dicing, Segregation of Data Gives the True Picture
It is the slicing and dicing of data that reveals the true picture. Take the case of Delhi which is battling bad air, bad politics and a variety of crimes. The city saw a rise of over 11 percent in crimes in 2017 as compared to 2016, and qualifies to be the crime capital of India in terms of aggregate figures. But it is data on juvenile offences, economic crimes and crimes against women and foreigners (with Delhi topping the list), which gives a clearer picture of the Capital crime map.
Further, people would be interested in knowing the figures of snatching, road rage and house-breaking crimes – issues that have an impact on their lives and give an overall impression of the law and order situation in the capital.
NCRB would have done well to add relevant column heads and subheads to find the pattern, to develop forecasts by extrapolating the annual crime rate trends and to study the factors that will influence the future scope of crime. NCRB could also expand its scope of data collation — a comparison of Delhi data with some of the capitals of the world — to show that it is still a safer capital than most others.
Meanwhile, some categories have themselves become redundant in the modern age. The Official Secrets Act (OSA) is truly outdated, especially after the enactment of Right to Information legislation (RTI) 2005. Under RTI, all information has to be given unless it falls under exempted categories. This category needs to be removed altogether.
Inexcusable Delays by NCRB
When the issue of delay in the release of ‘Crime in India’ 2017 reports was raised in the Parliament in July this year, it was stated that NCRB had comprehensively revised the pro forma for collecting crime statistics, to ensure that published data suits the requirement of various stakeholders. However, the report follows nearly the same pattern of 2016, apart from some new useful categories. Thus, the year-long delay is unexplained. And, on the digital highway, stale data is no data.
The NCRB has not even released its annual report on ‘Accidental Deaths and Suicides in India’ (ADSI) for the year 2016, a crucial source for data on farmer suicides — an issue of serious concern.
Some blame can be placed on the state governments as they do come up with data very late. But nothing can reason out such an inordinate delay.
In a democracy, the release of the NCRB data deserves to be commemorated as a public event, with the NCRB chief announcing key figures to the Fourth Estate, and opening the floor to questions. This will bring clarity, instil confidence in the public, and bring a breath of fresh air.
(Yashovardhan Azad is former IPS Officer and Member, Governing Council, Institute of Peace & Conflict Studies. He tweets @yashoazad. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)
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