R. Rajasekaran, Deputy Director, National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) responds:
This refers to the report in The Hindu, “ >India officially undercounts all crimes including rape ” (Sept. 13, 2013).
The first sentence, that says that the NCRB “is systematically undercounting virtually every crime in India on account of statistical shortcoming” is based on erroneous assumptions and made without understanding the basics of crime statistics. We understand that this statement is the result of a lack of understanding of statistical methods used across the world. Hence, there is need to clarify the misconception.
In India, the basic unit of counting a crime is a criminal case registered by police. A case may have many sections of law. But for statistical purposes, it is counted as a single case by the NCRB.
Similarly, different countries follow different statistical rules for counting recorded offences. For example, in Europe 18 countries apply a principal offence rule and 21 do not apply such a rule. In a country that follows the “principal offence rule,” the case is counted under the most serious offence of the case.
The NCRB had no other means to adopt other than the principal offence rule primarily due to the manual system of data collection in India. States and Union Territories (UT) have to collect crime data from all police stations manually at the end of every year, compile the data and send it to the NCRB.
India records more than 60 lakh cases every year and the permutation and combination of offences recorded in these FIRs may run in to the millions. It would be very difficult to verify the correctness and validate such a huge volume of data by adopting manual methods. The NCRB is a national repository of crime data and has the primary responsibility to ensure that the data supplied by police stations are validated properly as the manual system of collection may lead to many inconsistencies. The principal offence rule helps us to validate our crime data.
Following the principal offence rule doesn’t mean that the NCRB is undercounting or underestimating crime figures as this is an internationally followed practice. Statistical figures of “rape with murder” cases are reflected under the combined motives of murder in our data. The crime figures are there for every one to see and these figures do indicate many trends. Every year we supply crime data pertaining to our country to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime for the United Nations Survey of Crime Trends and Operations of Criminal Justice Systems by clearly stating that our data units are “Cases” and we follow that “principal offence rule” in counting offences. We thank The Hindu for pointing out that our disclaimers do not contain this and shall take care to include such disclaimers in future publications.
To maintain transparency we have uploaded all crime figures from 1953 to 2012 and analytic tools in our website. We agree that we do have limitations due to the manual collection of yearly crime data and our dependence on the States and UTs. To overcome this issue, the Ministry of Home Affairs has come up with a mission mode project called Crime and Criminal Tracking Network and Systems and appointed the NCRB as the implementing agency.
This project aims at automating the functioning of all 14,359 police stations in the country and connecting them as well as 6,106 higher offices. Once this project is implemented, the availability of crime data at the NCRB would be even more comprehensive. This data will automatically flow to the national data centre in real time basis. This project is likely to be fully implemented in a couple of years. Thereafter, NCRB will be able to provide all possible combinations of data on crime and offences.
Till such time we have to continue publishing our crime data using the conventional method and improved pro forma to serve the requirements of all the stakeholders.
Rukmini S. replies:
The NCRB does not dispute the facts of our story. It argues that the “principal offence” system that India follows is one of many systems, is a result of manual data collection, and expected to improve in the future, all facts that the article made note of. Several lawyers, researchers and readers who use the NCRB data contacted us after the article appeared, so I am glad to know the NCRB will consider including the “principal offence” disclaimer in the future. The NCRB is the only source of data on crime that anyone, including journalists, has at their disposal, and I look forward to the improvements it is working on.