Lie of the land

Police’s refusal to register crime gives a false picture of law and order. Citizens should raise voice and demand a change

shailesh

Shailesh Gandhi | January 4, 2014



Most crimes are a function of the kind of people we have in our society. The occurrence of crime will not stop even if you have honest and efficient policemen in good numbers. While investigation of crime and bringing offenders to book is a function of the police department, its deterrent value to stop crimes is limited. To give an example, if Tarun Tejpal did something in the lift, what could police have done? They can only take action subsequently. It would be silly to say that the police are responsible for what Tejpal did. Of course, if there are communal riots for two-three days, you can blame police.

Replying to my RTI query, Mumbai Police has said that between 1981 and 2010 crime in the city dipped, even though the population increased by at least 40-50 percent. Speaking of rapes, Sweden reports about 48 rapes per 1,00,000 population per year, the US and UK report 26 and 28 rapes, respectively, for the same period and in India, the figure is less than 3. Now because of increased sensitivity on crimes against women, the police are frightened not to record FIRs.

With the prevalent practice to ensure that crime figures remain less than corresponding figures of the previous year, burking – that is, suppressing the reality of crime by not registering cases – has been an unwritten national policy. It has to be acknowledged that we have been underreporting crimes for many decades and propagating a lie all along. To realise the gravity of our problem and understand its true nature, the media needs to compare crime figures of various countries. For example, there are over 7,000 cognizable crimes a year for every 1,00,000 people in the US, Germany and South Africa, whereas this number is less than 200 in India. It can hardly be anyone’s claim that India has less than 3% cognizable crimes compared to these countries.

This figure represents a fiction and the fact that our police do not report crimes. All police officers know this, though most of them will not admit it.

When I ask police officers about instructions they get from the police commissioner, their reply is, “Crime rates must not go up, otherwise you will be held responsible.” When the order comes from top that the crime rate must not go up, the cop at the police station will fob off most people. There are rare instances of action taken against police officers for not recording FIRs as required by law. Most citizens – the rich, middle class, the educated – are reluctant to approach the police. But the plight of the poor cannot even be imagined.

IPS officer Tripurari, in his article ‘Policing Without Using Force: The Jalpaiguri Experiment’ published in the Indian Police Journal (July-September 2009) writes, “Police alone need not be blamed for the rising number of violations of laws. Prevention of offences ought to be not the sole prerogative of police. Instead, it needs to be the prime objective of the society and the state involving all the three organs of the democracy, viz. legislature, executive and judiciary.”

An utter flaw in this system is that citizens and the media blame the police alone for rising crime rates. Citizens should realise that increase in crime is not a reflection only on police. It does reflect on police when no action is taken or investigation is not carried out on crimes reported.

We need to demand that all complaints must be recorded – even if the case is false, it must be recorded. Section 211 of IPC provides for prosecuting a person giving false complaint. Therefore selective registration of FIR after ‘filtration’ is against the spirit of law. We are effectively giving the right of a judge to the cop who does not want to register the case as cognizable for further investigation because he will be subjected to negative remarks and punishment by his boss, who will be censured by the police commissioner, and who in turn will have to face the wrath of the home minister.

That the system does not deliver justice is a separate argument altogether.

Section 154 of CrPC enunciates that an FIR is the first information report of a cognizable crime. Registration of FIR instils the fear of law in the minds of criminals, and keeps law and order in check. Corrective action can be taken if crimes are reported.

IPS officers say they don’t have enough policemen to record all crimes. But by not registering crimes, and thus not taking further action, the police are actually encouraging bigger crimes. If a conscientious officer starts registering offences, he will face a tough time from all sides.

In writ petition CRL No 68 of 2008, the supreme court has ruled, “In case FIRs are not registered within the aforementioned time and/or aforementioned steps are not taken by the police, the concerned magistrate would be justified in initiating contempt proceeding against such delinquent officers and punish them for violation of its orders if no sufficient cause is shown and awarding stringent punishment like sentence of imprisonment against them in as much as the disciplinary authority would be quite justified in initiating departmental proceeding and suspending them in contemplation of the same.”

In his journal paper, Tripurari says, “Since the number of pending cases being directly proportional to the number of cases recorded, all available means are adopted to avoid recording of cases. Most of the police officers usually find themselves stifled between the two opposing interests: enforcing the rule of law and at the same time, managing the crime figure at low level. This predicament is one of the main reasons for the suppression and minimisation of crime figure at the police stations.”

For decades we have cried hoarse about rising crime and didn’t take any cognisance of this. To set it right now and undo the damage is hard. The situation cannot improve unless the nation recognises this mistake.

A series of reminders that all these years our crime figures have lied, coupled with a conducive environment, can bring in that change. We have to bring this matter on the nation’s agenda. Possibly the judiciary too will then hold it against the police for not recording crimes.

Police must get the right message that we need to change this paradigm. For long I have been vocal about this issue. Everyone keeps talking about police reforms and say it will bring in autonomy. Everybody wants more power but no accountability. After years of being trained not to register crimes, and being encouraged to make it a source of bribes, it may now be difficult to have the police change itself, though Tripurari has managed to do this. It may be worthwhile considering a separate agency with no responsibility for investigation to register all complaints.

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