Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Refusal by police to register reports of crimes and alleged crimes

For those who don't know: in our country, if you have a civil or criminal complaint to make and you go to your local police station to do so, the police often refuse to register your complaint. If they do register your complaint, it is called a "First Information Report" (FIR).

As such matters are in the competence of the governments of the local, state and union territory (UT) governments (not the central government), the central government's circular to state governments and union territories calling for mandatory registration of all complaints as FIRs.

Why has the central governments decided to issue such a circular? Because the central government cannot legally force the local, state and UT governments to register all FIRs, but it can in practice pressure them to do so by means of creating national standards and training programmes, and providing or witholding funding for local, state and UT governments.

Such a circular is the first step towards creating such pressure.

Why has the central government decided to act now, rather than at any other time in the 63 years or so since Independence? Because of a particularly nasty case which has gained national notoreity, which involves among other things the alleged refusal of a partiucular police station to register a FIR.

Why do police stations refuse to register FIRs? Sometimes simply because it is too much bother. Sometimes because they hope to get a bribe before they register it. Usually because it does not look too good to have a huge number of FIRs that have not been investigated, let alone solved, by the police station concerned.

Why would police stations have a huge number of uninvestigated and unsolved FIRs?. Here is one explanation by a police official, as quoted by a recent e-mail circular on the issue (a "lakh" is 100,000):

"In a country where the state police collectively have over one lakh vacancies, the first step should be to recruit more policemen so that each and every complaint is attended properly. Mere registration of FIRs will not serve the purpose".

Clearly, steps need to be taken to investigate why, in a country with so much unemployment, over a 100,000 job-positions remain unfilled.

Compulsory registration of FIRs is certainly an essential step towards identifying the true extent of law-breaking in our country; without that, no one can assess the severity or frequency of the different types of lawbreaking that are taking place, let alone measure whether adequate steps are being taken to address lawbreaking, or evaluate the general impression that lawbreaking is increasing in our country.

In fact, one would have thought that compulsory registration of FIRs was an obvious and minimum first step which should have been implemented long ago.

However, the real issues with the central government circular are: how to prove that a police station has refused to register a FIR? And what penalty is to be applied for failure to register a FIR?

Friday, 25 December 2009

India now has roughly half a billion mobile 'phone numbers, but...

Sometime at the start of 2010, India will become the country with the second largest number of mobile phone users in the world (the largest is China) - though the actual number of subscribers will be less than 500 million, since some people have multiple SIM cards.

In average terms, that works out to roughly 45 phone connections per 100 of population. However, in the urban areas, the number is closer to 97%, while it is only about 18% in rural areas.

India’s broadband connections, however, continue to be a shockingly small 7.5 million.

This is partly because we don't have the right policies to facilitate greater broadband connectivity, and partly because fixed-line connectivity is actually coming down - to 37.25 million lines at present.

So is the increasing popularity of mobile a consequence as well as a contributor to illiteracy?

As long as we continue to be primarily an oral culture, we will never make the kind of progress we should. We need to be a culture that is equally oral and literate.