Undoing justice

India’s criminal justice systems should be standardised, harmonised, and integrated

Judiciary, justice system, criminal justice systems, Indian Penal Code
The criminal justice system is meant to be a deterrent against crime, punishing mala fide (and criminal) acts and protecting the bona fide.

“There’s a sucker born every minute.” This aphorism is an eternal truth, though its antecedents are obscure. (PT Barnum, the showman, may have been adept in the practice, but there is no evidence he said it, despite the attribution.) In a recent scam, 28 men from Tamil Nadu succumbed to temptation. On paying exorbitant sums, they were promised assorted jobs in Indian Railways and were subjected to fake training for a month. This training consisted of being stationed at New Delhi railway station, where they counted the number of trains that passed through different platforms. Despite most being engineering graduates, they didn’t smell a rat and given the variable quality of engineering graduates, probably thought they were being tested for numeracy.

This bizarre scam is matched by one from Ludhiana. A person posed as the Central Commandant of Crime and Criminal Tracking Network Systems (CCTNS). Acting as CCTNS officials, he and other scamsters extracted money from gullible young men, who were issued fake IDs, promising them jobs as investigating officers in CCTNS. Cheating, forgery, impersonation and other crimes—one will now be able to search for the scamsters on CCTNS. CCTNS has been a work in progress for some time, with earlier initiatives like Crime and Criminals Information System (CCIS) and Common Integrated Police Application (CIPA) as precursors. Among precursors, there are some state-specific initiatives too. CCTNS feeds into the Interoperable Criminal Justice System (ICJS). The latter covers e-courts, e-prisons, forensics and prosecution, leveraging technology to make criminal justice delivery more efficient. Other than a national database of crime and criminals, CCTNS connects police stations and digitises FIR registration, investigation and charge sheets. In a broader sense, this is about better e-governance.

The criminal justice system is meant to be a deterrent against crime, punishing mala fide (and criminal) acts and protecting the bona fide. If a crime is committed, this requires investigation, FIR, a charge-sheet, prosecution, and successful conviction. Of these, the last two have to do with ICJS and the way courts work. But the other three links have to do with the police. There are weaknesses in each link and rates vary, depending on the state and the nature of crime. Figures are also a function of the year. Roughly, for IPC (Indian Penal Code) crimes, investigation rates are around 65%. An investigation need not necessarily lead to an FIR or chargesheet, but what happens to the remaining 35%? The northeast has other issues. For the rest, if the investigation rate can be more than 95% in Gujarat, why is it just about 45% in Jharkhand? Charge-sheeting rates (as percentage of cases investigated) also vary widely across states. For IPC crimes, the all-India average is just over 72%. But it can be over 90% in Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Kerala, and West Bengal, while it is less than 40% in Assam.

For tax purposes, India is now one country, or will be, once all indirect taxes become part of GST. The criminal justice systems should also be standardised, harmonised, and integrated. After all, a citizen should be entitled to the same level of law and order, regardless of residence. CCTNS is designed to achieve that. There are around 17,000 police stations and more than 97% (a slightly old figure, it may be higher now) have CCTNS software and connectivity. What does one do with this? Digitise data, ensure data migration, feed FIR registration into CCTNS, launch citizen portals, and so on. These are desirable objectives. However, just as prefixing the letter “e” in e-governance does not automatically improve governance, the CCTNS tool facilitates, but does not automatically improve police performance.

The ministry of home affairs does an annual ranking of police stations, based on objective data (with an 80% weight) and a survey-based assessment (with 20% weight). In 2022, Aska in Ganjam (Odisha) was ranked the best police station. CCTNS doesn’t enter the ranking directly. The short-listing for a state (UT) is done on the basis of CCTNS. If CCTNS isn’t used, there is no chance of being short-listed. This is for police stations. Across states, there is a separate Pragati dashboard on different aspects of CCTNS—infrastructure, manpower and use of the database. Thus, 97% of police stations may have been connected to CCTNS, but the figure is 77% for West Bengal (as of January 2022). No legacy data has migrated in Bihar.

There are reasons for this variation among states—under-staffing being one. Both police and prisons are in the State List of Seventh Schedule. In 2016, the MHA brought out a model prison manual. Many states haven’t adopted this and have not updated their old prison manuals. What will e-Prisons achieve? For that matter, shouldn’t prisoners have access to Aadhaar for enrolment and upgradation? That makes prison administration easier. Of course, Aadhaar cannot be made mandatory, since being a prisoner cannot be interpreted as being a recipient of government welfare benefits. However, even when it is not mandatory, authentication through the voluntary use of Aadhaar has taken off in assorted services. More broadly, the agenda of police reforms has been stuck for years. Like the model prison manual, nothing much emerged through Model Police Acts (Bills). We are far away from the principle of one country,  “one police” and “one prison”. In this aspect of governance, if states belong to two different worlds, no matter how good a tool CCTNS is, the benefits will fall short.

(Chairman, EAC-PM)

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First published on: 17-03-2023 at 03:15 IST
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