NEW DELHI, September 13; The National Crime Records Bureau, India’s official source of crime data, is systematically undercounting virtually every crime in India on account of a statistical shortcoming, The Hindu has learnt.
The December 16 gang rape, which prompted much examination of data on sexual assault in the country, will not even figure in NCRB data on rape owing to this statistical flaw.
The NCRB, under the union Home ministry, compiles its annual ‘Crime in India’ publication based on data that comes to it from state crime records bureaus, which in turn get their data from the First Information Reports (FIRs) filed with every police station in that State. What few know, however, is that the data published by the NCRB only takes into account the ‘principal offence’ in every FIR, that is, the charge that attracts the maximum penalty, a fact confirmed to The Hindu by R. Rajasekaran, deputy director of the NCRB. In the case of a rape-and- murder, such as the December 16 Delhi case, the ‘principal offence’ is murder since it attracts a maximum penalty of death. As a result, rapes that end in murder are recorded only as murders in NCRB’s statistics. “We are trying to improve our system. New editions could include categories like ‘rape-and- murder’ and ‘attempt to rape’,” Mr. Rajasekaran said.
This statistical shortcoming, however, extends beyond rapes-and-murders to virtually all crimes short of murder. Since a typical FIR contains several charges, it is clear that the NCRB statistics are an under-counting of all crimes, but the extent of under-counting is impossible to estimate. Moreover, the four “disclaimers” and four “limitations” that the NCRB lists in its 2012 publication make no mention that the numbers are restricted to ‘principal offences’.
Several legal scholars The Hindu spoke to for this article who used NCRB data for academic work and advocacy were unaware of this aspect of the data they were using.
“Some 60 lakh cases are filed in India every year. So there is an immense number of possible combinations of different sections [of the law]. It is not possible in a statistical publication to publish all of these,” Mr. Rajasekaran said.
“The NCRB says it is collecting the entire country’s crime data. If this is what is happening then it’s a serious problem because policies are being framed by various bodies using these numbers,” said Vrinda Grover, a senior advocate and human rights activist who has engaged with NCRB data, particularly on sexual assault. “We have been asking for a while for the NCRB to open up its data to assessment from outside, and to arrange meetings with experts on how to improve,” she said.
The NCRB says it is making an effort to improve its data collection. “The statistics come to us on the basis of a pro forma that we send to the police stations. We are working on a new pro forma that will be much more detailed,” Mr. Rajasekaran said.
Since the NCRB can only publish data based on FIRs that have been registered, it is already often criticised by activists for underestimating crime. Two official committees have recommended that India add a “victimisation survey” to its official crime data, as several other countries do, to get an accurate picture of total crime.