The severity of police shortage

Sushant SinghHere is a simple question: As a share of India’s GDP, what is the percentage expenditure incurred by the state governments on police in a year? The answer may surprise you. It is less than 0.5 per cent of the GDP. In comparison, India’s defence expenditure is estimated to be around two per cent of its GDP while the public spending on education exceeds 4 pe cent of GDP every year.

With an annual expenditure of Rs 49,576.3 crore, the average expenditure incurred by the government on a policeman in a year is around Rs 3 lakh. This is when India has only 77 per cent of its authorised strength of police (12,81,317 against an authorisation of 16,60,953). Although not one of the 28 states has the full complement of police force, the shortage is galling in some of the bigger states. The most shocking is Uttar Pradesh, which has a deficiency of 53 per cent: 1,55,477 cops against an authorisation of 3,31,783. Maharashtra, neither the biggest nor the most populous state, has the largest contingent of police force in the country, of 1,69,146 cops. But it still has a shortage of 12 per cent.

The shortage of policemen was highlighted by P Chidambaram in 2008
Need of the hour: The shortage of policemen was highlighted by P Chidambaram in 2008

A slightly different look at the data makes the problem clearer. For every 100 square kilometre of area, we have an average of 52.4 policemen. This goes down to 32.6 in Maoist-affected Chhattisgarh, and to 23.5 in neighbouring Madhya Pradesh. Because the larger concentration of police is in urban areas, the actual density of police in non-urban areas would be even lower. It is no surprise then that 6,000 square kilometre of area, mostly in south Chhattisgarh and adjoining areas of Orissa, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra, remains “liberated”, in complete control of the Maoists and out of bounds for the security forces.

On an average, India has 137 policemen per lakh of population. But it varies with each state. Bihar has only 65 policemen per lakh of population, West Bengal has 92 and Uttar Pradesh has 97. Thus, we have the case of Loni, a town in Uttar Pradesh, barely 17 kilometres away from Delhi. As per India Today, it has only 171 policemen for a population of 12 lakh. Consequently, it has become a sanctuary for criminals fleeing the national capital.

Even if all the states were to get their full complement of policemen, the police-population ratio per lakh of population would rise to only 168. The comparable ratio for Western Europe is 300-400 policemen while it varies between 200 to 400 across the United States.

The shortage of policemen is not a recent phenomenon. It was highlighted by the then Union Home Minister, P Chidambaram in 2008 when he promised to fill up 400,000 vacancies by 2012. Come 2012 and the situation remains unchanged. With the shortfall in state police forces, the centre has been raising more battalions of central paramilitary forces. But additional central forces can never be a substitute for the local police. The local ties of the civil police provide intelligence and facilitate the development of symbiotic relationships between the community and the government, something not possible with the paramilitary forces brought in from outside the community.

Moreover, an overstretched police is mostly preoccupied with law and order duties at the cost of crime investigation. It is reflected in the chargesheeting and conviction rate for criminal cases. Police could chargesheet only 53.7 per cent cases for investigation, and only 41 percent of tried cases resulted in conviction across the country last year. Maharashtra, the state with the largest police force, had an appallingly low conviction rate of only 8 percent.

A shortage of police has also led to the demise of the beat constable system. The beat constable system was a time-tested method of gaining local knowledge, being visible, gaining familiarity with locals and collecting criminal intelligence. Grandiose plans by various states to revive the beat system, which have failed to take off, can only work once adequate policemen are available at the police stations.

While there is quality in quantity, there are fears that putting more police into a corrupt and ineffective system will only breed more corrupt and ineffective police. We need to strengthen the police, both in quantity and quality. Police reforms must thus be undertaken concurrent to the expansion of the police. Else, any expansion could end up doing more harm than good.

Sushant K Singh is Fellow for National Security at the Takshashila Institution and editor of Pragati-The Indian National Interest Review 

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