In a Covid-dominated year, NCRB’s 2020 Crime in India report shows that much police efforts have been put into enforcing Covid-related social distancing norms. About 16 lakh of the total of 66 lakh identifiable offenses recorded in 2020 (nearly 25%) were offenses such as disregarding an order issued by a civil servant and negligent act likely to spread infection. Covid has also massively hampered the judiciary, with pending court cases rising from 3.2 million before the pandemic to over 4 million cases now. The struggle of justice is best illustrated by rape trials.
In addition to 1.46 lakh rape cases from 2019, a further 23,693 cases were brought to trial in 2020. But only 3,451 cases from previous years and 363 from 2020 ended with a conviction of a total of 9,898 cases settled by the courts. Essentially, the arrears grew to 1.6 lakh rape cases. The situation calls for the prioritization of heinous crimes and the swift resolution of the Covid-related crimes without letting them incriminate – through practical options like Lok Adalats or through the withdrawal of governments.
NCRB also sheds light on states that are taking action against protest. UP’s recourse to the Prevention of Public Property Damage Act (which covers nearly half of the 4,500 cases in India) gives it the dubious record that nearly 40% of the crimes committed against the state in India are responsible. Across states, 50,000 riot cases and 10,000 unlawful assembly trials were filed, up 12% from 2019. But many categories of riot had abysmal conviction rates, ranging from 10% to 20%. They also saw pendants in the Supreme Court of over 96%.
The futility of the widespread use of hate speech is illustrated by the fact that in 2020 the police added 73 cases to 157 pending investigations from previous years. The courts initiated 23 incitement trials, 86 of which were pending in previous years, and decided only six cases (four of which were acquittals) by the end of the year. Ultimately, given the tremendous dependency rate and the improvement in the quality of policing that translates into low conviction rates for many heinous crimes, the data from NCRB makes a strong case for accelerating the appointment of judges. Will politics act?
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This piece appeared as an editorial statement in the print edition of the Times of India.