The crime of not registering cases
By Maxwell Pereira

The police often try to show a lower crime rate by burking. There is need to implicate erring police officials

On Friday, January 27, 2006, the Supreme Court deigned to issue notices to two senior police officials of Uttar Pradesh — the SSP Ghaziabad and his Station House Officer, Vijay Nagar police station — for not filing an FIR in a kidnap case. It treated the plea of a distraught and sobbing mechanic as an habeus corpus petition.

There is an interesting page in Google's cache of as retrieved on 23 January, 2005, on which is available the NCRB's (National Crime Record Bureau) FAQ section with answers to queries from a police officer from one of the States. One of the queries is, “In my State I have ensured free registration of cases. In other States there is large scale burking. It is not fair to go by crime rate, as free registration has led to increase in crimes reported. What mechanism do you have to ensure a balance in it?”

The NCRB’s answer: “Every State ensures free registration of crimes. Burking of crime is neither permitted nor possible in a society where envisioned public and media are alert and act as watchdog. No one can claim that free and fair registration has led to increase in crime rate. On the contrary, ‘‘transparency” is maintained in crime reporting. Surveys such as ‘‘crime victimisation’’ at the state and national levels shall ensure a balance and can estimate the number of un-reported serious crimes.

How very utopian! If it were true, would the state of affairs concerning ‘‘registration of crime’’ have reached such nadir as to warrant the highest court's intervention! The worst plague afflicting the police, in reality, is the rampant malady of non-registration of crime. Commonly referred to as burking in police parlance, this is something all police departments in the country suffer from.

‘‘Free registration’’ is an expression that one hears in police circles whenever a freak police chief makes it known that those found ‘‘burking’’ will face disciplinary action. The Delhi police had its share of good officers — R D Pandey, Nikhil Kumar, and some others, who concentrated on solving crime than bothering about increased statistics. Only to be cried down in the media, where sensationalising the increased numbers merited more than the quality of policing the citizens enjoyed. To the politician and the government in power, increasing statistics are always a bother to answer in Parliament. Inevitably, such odd chiefs get shown the door quickly, mainly to reinforce the message that ‘‘free registration’’ and politics cannot go together.

So the Indian police have a positively bad record for ‘‘burking’’ (a favourite expression now to describe ‘‘covering up’’ or ‘‘burying’’: the choice word that had its origins in describing a unique form of committing murder). Burking helps massage statistics so that they look respectable and uneventful. Police performance evaluation needs to be gauged by the sense of security the citizens enjoy. Judging it solely on the basis of crime statistics is inadequate. This encourages the extremely undesirable practice of refusing to record and investigate crime. It also fails to give a true picture of the state of law and order — often leading to disastrous consequences.

When every aspect — political uncertainty, socio-economic factors like caste and religion, growing disparity between haves and have-nots, and particularly the growing population — is conducive to growth in crime, there is no explanation for any downward slide in the crime graph attempted constantly to project to a nigh cynical populace by those in the chair, as their measure of success.

Against this background, now the matter before the Supreme Court: It is time the Government is asked the specific measures it can take to ensure that citizens are not deprived of their basic right to have complaints registered and investigated. Unless such drastic measures are contemplated, there is no hope.

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