Too few cops, overload of cases

Delhi Police is dealing with an overload of pending cases due to a shortfall in manpower, low fresh recruitment and lack of on-job training exercises

Delhi has just 6,576 police Sub-inspectors (SIs), a rank which is tasked with carrying out investigations. Data on ‘Human Resources in the Policing and Law and Order System’ by Praja Foundation, secured through RTIs, shows shortage of staff in a city burdened with a rising number of crimes and an ever-increasing load of pending cases.

Putting it into perspective, Delhi has a total strength of 79,431 police personnel serving a population of almost 30 million (according to UN World Urbanization Prospects). At the same time, New York City has about 36,000 officers serving a population of approximately 8.5 million people, London’s metropolitan police force has a strength of 32,900 officers serving over 9 million people.

The small number of police personnel in the Capital city certainly has repercussions. Looking at the NCRB data released this year, the cases pending investigation are just the tip. One needs to understand how the justice system fails with a police force reeling under pressure due to lack of desired numbers. There were 1,10,287 cases pending investigation in 2018 in Delhi, in 2019 there were 2,99,475 cases reported. With 98,855 total cases pending investigation in 2019.

While the sanctioned strength of the Sub-inspectors is 7,859 the actual number was 16% less.

Advocate Mohit Kumar Gupta, with the law firm Black Robes Legal that deals with, amongst others, pro bono cases, believes that even if the numbers in the police force were to reach its sanctioned strength, it would not be enough.

Looking at 2019, when there were 98,855 pending cases, if the force met the level of sanctioned strength it would mean that 12 cases would have to be assigned per Sub-inspector. On top of that, the yearly case load – taking the example of the previous year’s number of 2,99,475, makes it 38 cases, adding to 50 cases per sub-inspector.

Gupta sees a problem here, asking “How many cases can one investigating officer handle?”. “There are many limitations. The cases that should be handled by a Sub-inspector level officer is being handled by an ASI. Which would mean the staff are not well trained.”

The ‘Performance Audit of Manpower and Logistics Management in Delhi Police’s report released by CAG in September of this year found that there was an average shortfall of 42% during the period of 2016-19 in terms of personnel stipulated to receive specialized training and those actually who actually received it.

It pointed out that apart from the induction training provided to fresh recruits, Delhi Police’s specialised training is to “upgrade and impart skills regarding weaponry, investigation, IT etc.”

The audit report said that the shortfall in training, as per the Delhi Police, was due to insufficient nomination from District/Units of the Delhi Police as they were not able to spare their personnel for the purpose, due to exigent field duty. Which indicates, as the report pointed out, that shortage of manpower adversely affects the training of police personnel.

Interestingly, deployment details of 138 police personnel relating to five specialised courses during the year 2017 were test-checked to examine if the personnel were deployed in units related to the field in which they were trained. But the audit report found that around 42% of trainees were not posted to the units for which they were trained.

Gupta believes this lack of training and the lack in strength corresponding with each other affects the registering of FIRs. “Instead of registering cases, the police personnel would press for – in matters where possible – mediation or compromise. The police stations have become the courts, deciding if the matter can be solved without an FIR.”

“That is how they restrict the quantum of cases because if in every matter an FIR is filed, then the Delhi Police will be unable to handle it”, he further adds that the police personnel sit on cases for almost two years sometimes just to place a charge sheet. “They will keep telling the courts that the investigation is on, the courts say file status reports. They (the courts) themselves have such a huge backlog so what all will they look at? The point that should be looked at, is in how many cases is Delhi Police able to secure a prosecution.”

In fact, the NCRB report shows that there was a total of 2,21,781 cases where“true but insufficient evidence or untraced or no clue” was found in 2019.

Another criminal lawyer Paras Gaur echoes the concerns of Gupta, saying the low number of staff in the police force means a negative effect on the investigation. “In a recent case of IPC 436 (Mischief by fire or explosive substance with intent to destroy house) that I am dealing with, the charge sheets have not been submitted since the lockdown. The first excuse was the lockdown, then the investigating officer said he had another case to deal with so couldn’t come to court. There have been many excuses for the delay. It takes almost six months to do what should be done in 2-3 months”.

He also says that FIRs are not easily lodged, but in offences related to women, it is an exception. “When common people try to lodge a complaint, they (the police) will not hear it out, instead send them away, especially in assault cases. Because of the online system for (FIR related to) theft, it has gotten better for such cases.”

Praja Foundations report ‘State of Policing and Law & Order in Delhi’ released in November also finds that the highest shortage of police personnel was in the South district (-24%), followed by Central (-23%) and North East (- 22%) in 2019-20.

The latter also being the district which witnessed riots in February this year, killing at least 53 individuals, injuring hundreds, with scores of homes and businesses destroyed by arson and looting.

Hiring in a limbo

So where is the problem with the recruitment, and why is the force unable to secure its basic sanction number? The CAG report has found that the problem is all-encompassing, beginning from April 2018 when the Ministry of Home Affairs approved the sanction of additional posts which was proposed by the Delhi Police in August of 2016. This was categorised into three levels, Priority-I (15,222 posts), Priority-II (15,239 posts) and Priority-III (23,49811 posts).

The Ministry of Home Affairs approved 12,518 posts from Priority-1, out of which 3,139 posts were to be affected initially and remaining 9,379 posts were to be affected subject to the deployment of these personnel on ground; along with a thorough review of working of Delhi Police in view of above deployment.

However, the audit report notes that the Delhi Police had made recruitments for these 3,139  sanctioned posts. Furthermore, what also dented the city’s prospects in getting a bigger police force was that ‘Monthly Action Taken Reports’ were not submitted by Delhi Police from September 2018 onwards till April 2019.

“Thus, due to the Delhi Police’s failure to fulfil the conditions set by MHA, the remaining 9,379 posts approved were yet to be effected.” The audit report also noted that the Delhi Police informed them on June 2020, that 118 manpower proposals consisting of 52,514 posts of various ranks are under consideration in MHA, and that these proposals are their future requirements.

This was also noted to be false, with it saying, “Audit does not concur with the reply that all these proposals are for their future requirements, as these proposals primarily comprise manpower for the units, which have already started functioning with manpower diverted from existing units e.g.”

In the end, the question remains: When will the city get a big enough police force for its ever-increasing population?

(Cover: MANNING STAFF: Delhi has a total strength of 79,431 police force serving a population of almost 30 million  PHOTO: CC BY SA 4.0/ DiplomatTesterMan)

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