Will Yogi Adityanath's 'Bang Bang' policy in Uttar Pradesh backfire?

Topics Yogi Adityanath

Yogi Adityanath
On February 3, 2018, local policemen of Jhinjina village in Uttar Pradesh’s Shamli district waited to nab an extortionist near a temple where he was supposed to come and collect the bounty. None of them had anticipated what they would lay their hands on. The police had received a complaint that the man had demanded Rs 10 million from a local panchayat member as blood money for not killing his family members.  When two men on a motorcycle came to the designated spot to collect the extortion money, they were apprehended by the police. The two men –- one carrying a .32 bore pistol and the other a .315 rifle –- opened fire on the policemen. After a protracted gun fight, when the sound of shooting subsided, the policemen began their combing operations. They stumbled upon an injured man named Akbar (alias Moosa), a resident of a nearby village in Shamli district in addition to cash, guns and live ammunition. Akbar who suffered gunshot wounds in the battle was taken to hospital where he succumbed to his injuries. On digging out the man’s credentials, the policemen found that Akbar was wanted in 13 cases -– that included charges of robbery, criminal intimidation, stealing property, dacoity, carrying dangerous weapons and drug running. For the residents of villages in Shamli, who were victims of Akbar’s reign of terror, his killing couldn’t have come at a better time. Akbar is one of the 32 criminals shot dead by the Uttar Pradesh police since the Bharatiya Janata Party stormed to power in the state. The state’s chief minister Yogi Adityanath has told the legislature that there have been more than 1,000 encounters since he has come to power. His government isn’t finished yet. In addition to eliminating outlaws, over 2,500 have been arrested and bounties have been placed on the heads of over 1,700 criminals.

Uttar Pradesh's residents have often lived in fear. Women and girls even in big cities such as Lucknow and Kanpur have been victims of sexual harassment, catcalls and stalking. The state’s western region (where Akbar was killed) is particularly notorious for extortion, gun running and rapes. A look at the condition of the state and prisons inherited by the Yogi Adityanath government from his predecessors partly explains his government’s trigger-happy approach. Even for a state like Uttar Pradesh, where poor criminal record keeping is accentuated by police reluctance to register cases, the crime situation and prison scenarios are shocking. (See Graphic)

Between 2008 to 2016, when the Bahujan Samaj Party led by Mayawati and the Samajwadi Party led by Akhilesh Yadav were in power, kidnapping cases in the state shot up by 193 per cent -– higher than the national average. During Mayawati’s tenure, kidnapping and robbery cases had shot up by 64 per cent and 51 per cent respectively. There was no let down in murder cases during her tenure with killings rising more than the national average. During her successor Akhilesh Yadav’s tenure, it was the state’s women who bore the brunt of the criminality. Between 2012 to 2016, rapes in the state rose by 145 per cent. Gang rapes, which have been recently included as a separate crime head by the Home Ministry, increased by 19 per cent even as gang rape cases across India showed a marginal decline. There was a three-fold increase in the number of assaults on women with an intention to outrage her modesty during this period while cases of sexual harassment more than doubled. Kidnapping cases meanwhile spiked by 79 per cent during Akhilesh Yadav’s tenure. By 2016, the state witnessed the maximum number of guns and ammunition seized anywhere in India. It topped the charts in crimes against children. The state had the highest number of crimes against Dalits -– one in every four crimes against India’s lowest castes was committed in the state. The Western part of Uttar Pradesh, where the police have carried out most of the encounters, reported the maximum crimes in the state. While crime rates would be higher in India’s most populous state, Uttar Pradesh’s criminals seem to have been impervious to the force of law used against them in the past. In many ways the state’s patronage of criminals by the previous governments has neutralised the fear of incarceration and incentives of reformation.

Home Ministry figures show that the number of murder convicts jailed in Uttar Pradesh rose 120 per cent between 2008 to 2015. In comparison, the number of murder convicts jailed across India during this period rose by 15 per cent. Despite this massive increase in convicted murderers being thrown behind bars, there was a 21 per cent increase in attempts to murder in the state. Cases of murder also increased in the state while they showed a decline across India. While jailing criminals did not help contain murders, successive state governments failed to even deter other heinous crimes such as rapes. The number of convicted rapists increased by a third in jails across the state but rape cases spiked by 145 per cent. Sexual assaults on women also saw a triple-digit increase during this period. What further makes the crime situation dire in Uttar Pradesh is that while jails don’t deter new criminals, they also seem to have little effect on habitual offenders. Almost seven per cent of the criminals in jail had been behind bars more than once. Instances of recidivism among criminals declined across India, while witnessing a rise in Uttar Pradesh. Even inside jail, there seems to have been little incentive to reform the state’s criminals. Uttar Pradesh had the highest instances of jail breaks across India and only a fraction of those who escaped from prison were ever apprehended again. Compounding this problem is the paucity of reformative facilities available in the state’s jails for prisoners. Despite having the highest number of inmates among all states in India, it has one of the lowest number of such prisoners receiving vocational training in jails. The state’s burgeoning prisons hold over 88,000 convicts and under-trials. Less than 1 per cent of these prisoners are imparted vocational training that could potentially channelise their criminal energies towards less destructive endeavours. Even among those who are imparted vocational training or have engaged in some kind of productive enterprise, their output is abysmal. The state’s inmates produced just about Rs 150 million worth of goods in 2015 – that’s a per capita output value of around Rs 1,700. In comparison, states like Kerala and Tamil Nadu which have a fraction of the prisoners in Uttar Pradesh, produced goods worth Rs 230 million and Rs 480 million respectively.

The vicious cycle of criminality in the state has shown its impact on the state’s business environment. Reserve Bank of India statistics show that gross fixed capital formation in the state plummeted 39 per cent between 2012 to 2015. Even as the invested capital in the state increased, the productive capital in the state fell by 12 per cent during the same period. An impact of reducing crime on a region’s economy and its people can be borne out by what is happening in Philippines, whose President Rodrigo Duterte was one of the ASEAN chief guests at this year’s Republic Day parade. A look at the daily briefings of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency shows that there have been killings and arrests almost every day after Duterte came to power in July 2016. Philippines media reports suggest that there has been a 22 per cent drop in crime since 2016. Human Rights Watch estimates that more than 3,000 criminals (including suspected drug users) have been killed after Duterte came to power. While crime has reduced, there is also enhanced optimism about the impact of Duterte’s crackdown on his country’s economic prospects. The World Bank estimates, “The Philippines grew in the first half of 2017 faster than Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia and Vietnam, but slower than China. Following strong growth in the immediate months after the new administration assumed office in July 2016, the economy had a slow start in the first half of 2017.”

While the demographic dynamics, geographical attributes and criminal profiles of Uttar Pradesh might be different from Philippines, there is no denying the fact that diminishing the state’s criminality could go a long way in boosting the business profile of the state. After all, law & order would be one of the things on the minds of many an investor who had promised to pump in more than Rs 4 trillion in the state during a recently concluded investors summit. With Yogi Adityanath adopting an ‘Iron Fist ’approach, Uttar Pradesh could at best get a temporary reprieve from criminals who had made parts of the state a living hell for its law abiding residents. But his government would have to ensure that this ‘Bang Bang’ policy doesn’t backfire in the times to come.


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