Wednesday, April 24, 2013


By Bibhu Prasad (Guest Writer)

It is important to bust a myth reinforced by the generic expression of despair that Delhi has turned into a crime capital of India. In terms of number of crimes registered per 100,000 residents, Delhi, a city of 16 million people, is not the worst city in the country. India's smaller cities are far worse affected and contribute significantly to crime numbers. 

Thus, the likelihood of being a victim of a rape or another crime is actually far higher in many other Indian cities than Delhi. However, it is also true that Delhi is the worst among the Indian mega-cities in terms of absolute number of cases involving criminal activities. Worse still, all categories of crime continue to rise in this city, in spite of the fact that Delhi Police arguably is perhaps the best police force in India, in terms of personnel strength, infrastructure and capacities. 

It is also important to underline that crime rates in all the mega-cities in the world are declining, even in the days of bad economy. The city of New York, known in the past for the large number of homicides, has been able to bring down the figure drastically. A feat in this regard was achieved in November 2012, when for more than 36 hours no one was shot, stabbed or killed in the city of about nine million people. New York's crime rate, in fact, has been on the decline since the 1990s. Compared with nearly 2,300 murders in 1990, only 472 homicides were recorded in 2011. Similarly, in 2012, London recorded barely 89 homicides, compared with 121 in 2011. Crime rates have declined in Moscow, Paris and Beijing. 

Delhi's crime figures, in comparison, have consistently increased, by 4% during 2011 and another 2% during 2012. The increase is, however, alarming in cases involving rape. According to the Delhi Police data, in the first four-and-a-half months of 2013, such incidents have registered an increase of 158% over the same period last year. 

Like any other city in India, New Delhi's rising crime profile has been repeatedly blamed on migrants, who converge in hundreds on the city each passing day. In 2010, then home minister P Chidambaram linked rising crime to "a kind of behavior" the migrants bring along with them from their places of origin. 

Responding to a spate of rape incidents Chidambaram had said, I condemn the heinous crime of rape. Migrants are behind such crimes in the capital. There are a large number of unauthorized colonies and these migrants who settle in unauthorized colonies carry a kind of behavior that is unacceptable in any modern city, so crimes do take place.

While Chidambaram does have a point, it is also useful to locate the national capital's rising crime in terms of its locational disadvantages, being surrounded by urban clusters that are affected by a high degree of crime. 

For example, in the latest listing of 276 cities worldwide to draw up the global crime index, the city of Gurgaon in neghboring Haryana state is numbered 27 from below with a crime index of 65.51 and safety index of 34.49. Noida in Uttar Pradesh, another suburban built up area that abuts New Delhi, is even worse at 11th position, with a crime index of 75 and a safety index of 25. It could be useful to analyze how much of this wave of crime in its periphery is spilling over into Delhi and how effective have been the plans to prevent such an overflow. 

However, even with these existing drawbacks and disadvantages, preventing crime appears to be a question of intent rather than capacities for the Delhi Police. Much has been written about its police strength, the attitudes of the policemen and the overall policing shortcomings. However, with all its existing problems, the Delhi Police managed to bring down the crime rate significantly during the 2010 Commonwealth Games. In the words of the police commissioner at the time, heinous crime fell by 46.4%, incidents of homicide fell by 52%, and even accidents fell by 47% during that period, demonstrating that Delhi can be far more safe with the existing policing capacity than what it is at present. 

Both the lack of initiatives to ensure optimal use of existing capacities on a continuing basis and the failure to modernize the police force at an acceptable pace continue to remain at the core of the problem. The Delhi Police's surveillance projects, which could have helped track down criminals, are said to have left unimplemented due to fund crunch. The force received 18.74 billion rupees (US$345 million) against its demand for 40.28 billion rupees, forcing it to drop at least 27 of 72 important projects that were lined up for 2012-17. 

Ironically, Delhi Police also erred for not using funds already in its kitty. The Comptroller and Auditor General of India recently criticized the force for underutilization of sanctioned funds for modernizing the traffic system and its communications network. It barely managed to spend 27% of the funds. 

The suggestion for capacity augmentation among the police, political and bureaucratic leadership as a panacea for Delhi's chronic security woes has been repeated far too often. While all that remains important, an augmentation in intent needs to precede for any futuristic plan to succeed. 

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