NCRB data: handle with care

If the data on juvenile crime are anything to go by, the annual reports of the National Crime Records Bureau cannot be taken at face value.

September 09, 2016 12:54 am | Updated September 22, 2016 05:56 pm IST

The National Crime Records Bureau’s (NCRB) annual round-up of crime statistics has in recent years been the subject of extensive media coverage. The parsing of the official data, however, tends to be a superficial exercise, focussing on the big numbers instead of the minutiae.

Numbers that don’t quite add up On August 30, the NCRB released its ‘Crime in India 2015’ report. Let’s sample the section on “Juveniles in conflict with law”, Chapter 10. The figures in Table 10.4 — data on crimes by children below 12 years of age — state the following, among others: 13 boys charged with murder, nine with attempt to murder; 14 boys charged with rape; four boys charged with kidnapping and abduction of women to compel her for marriage; four boys charged with causing dowry death; 13 boys and a girl charged with assault on women with intent to outrage their modesty; 11 boys charged with “unnatural offences”; two boys charged under the Foreigners Act.

K. P. Asha Mukundan

This is not all. Data show that 23 children below 12 years were charged under the Juvenile Justice Act, which means they must have committed one of the following offences: employed another juvenile or child for begging, supplied them with liquor or narcotic drugs, employed them and exploited them. Seventy eight children between 13 and 16 years were also charged under the JJ Act. Some of these offences sound a little difficult for those below 12 years to perform. If true, it is a matter of serious concern for us as a society. But if not, were these children in conflict with the law or were they victims who got wrongly documented as offenders? Is this what “increase in juvenile crime rate” is all about?

There’s more. The report records 48 cases of “criminal breach of trust” being registered against children. Technically, anyone below 18 years cannot be charged thus, as Section 405 of the Indian Penal Code states that it can be applied only on those who can lawfully deal with property — children below 18 years cannot, since they are ineligible to sign contracts. Similarly, five children were charged under the Essential Commodities Act, 1955. Again, this applies only on licensed vendors, and no licensed vendor can be below 18 years of age. A close reading of the tables brings out many such fallacies.

The need to take onus This kind of data would mean two things. One, the police stations from where the data are being collected are not clear about definitions or not serious about the way they maintain documents; and two, the NCRB is not making adequate efforts to train police stations or State-level agencies in data collection, as evident from the disclaimer in the report that it has made every effort to be “statistically consistent”. The report further goes on to state that “NCRB shall not be responsible for statistical error, if any, in the published data”. If the NCRB, attached to the Ministry of Home Affairs, and the only government body tasked with the publication of national-level crime data, refuses to take responsibility for the data they publish, who is?

At a consultation held in July on “Interpreting Crime Data on Children” by the Bombay High Court and the Tata Institute of Social Sciences’ Resource Cell for Juvenile Justice, there were concerns raised by government officials on under-reporting of cases due to political pressure, and about how many States fail to furnish data, which results in a few States being projected as juvenile crime hubs. Despite this, the NCRB went ahead and published its voluminous report of over 600 pages!

Data given in Table 10.5 and Table 10.6 are also highly questionable. Table 10.5 gives figures of the number of different kinds of final orders passed by the Juvenile Justice Board (JJB) on juveniles apprehended under various crime heads of the IPC and Special and Local Laws (SLL) during 2015. This kind of data can only be cross-checked against orders passed by the JJBs. It may be noted that in Maharashtra (and a majority of the other States), the JJB does not maintain a record/break-up of the different kinds of orders it passes. In this context, how are the police able to provide such data given that the source of this table is police records?

To substantiate this point further, the NCRB data is at odds with figures from Maharashtra collected by the Bombay High Court from Special Homes for juveniles for the aforementioned consultation. It was found that a total of 46 boys were sent to the only two Special Homes in Maharashtra. However, NCRB figures put the figure at 1,978!

Unquestioned data

Similarly, Table 10.6 gives the ‘Classification of Apprehended Juveniles (under IPC and SLL) by Attributes During 2015’. The attributes here are education and economic status. I am yet to see a policeman who actually asks a juvenile his educational and economic status and records the same in the FIR. And yet, this table has complete data on each and every juvenile apprehended.

This kind of data has been published year after year after year and goes unquestioned.

This year, many media reports not only covered the ‘Crime in India 2015’ release prominently but even dedicated a separate section to juvenile crime. With the increasing popularity of NCRB data comes increased responsibility for the agency, especially when the data are referenced by national and international agencies for policymaking and research. It is time the NCRB took onus for the data it publishes and strived for authenticity instead of “statistical consistency”. Until then, handle NCRB data with care.

K.P. Asha Mukundan is an Assistant Professor at the Centre for Criminology and Justice, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai.

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