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Spending on police by states improves after several years, but gaps remain

After years of neglecting the police force, some of the larger Indian states have begun to spend relatively more on the services. The growth rate of spending now matches the money spent on both social services and on economic services during the past four years. 

This could take some pressure off the Centre. In the last ten years, the fastest growing element of India's government expenditure was that on central armed police forces, as the states were under spending on them. 

Yet weaknesses remain. Most of the recent rise in the spending by the states are on salary and, to some extent, on housing. Uttar Pradesh has recruited 41,250 constables in 2019, the lowest rank in state police force hierarchy. Haryana is picking up another 6,400. There could be hiccups even in these exercises. Uttar Pradesh is picking up the slack for several years after court battles. Bihar has announced it would recruit  29,000 people in the state police this week, yet due to court cases this could linger for years. Rajasthan has still not been able to draw up a list of candidates for the 11,000 constable vacancies it advertised more than a year ago, in May 2018. And even when the recruits join, they will have precious little ammunition to deter crime. The worrying phenomenon is that the scale of vacancies among police is more acute in the northern states. Of the 414,492 police posts in UP, almost a third are vacant. The percentages are the same in other densely-populated states such as Bihar and West Bengal. State police forces are responsible for maintaining law and order and investigating crime, while the central forces are supposed to assist them with intelligence and face the more difficult internal security challenges. 

To do their task, states need to equip their police forces. But unlike schemes for other sectors where states are most keen to pick up central funding, police spending on weaponry lags, as there is no political mileage to be had from it. To make states buy more weapons and supporting equipment for their police, the Centre has had to set up an incentive scheme called 'Assistance to States for Modernisation of Police'. The more the states spend, the more incentives they shall get from the fund, with the freedom to spend elsewhere. In FY19, ten states including Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Punjab, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand have spent their allotted capital to dress up their police. This is the first time the full outlay for the year of Rs 76.9 crore has been spent, encouraging the Centre to double the sum to Rs 158.26 crore. 

In terms of scale, this could seem puny, but given the years of neglect, it signals a change. A Comptroller and Auditor General report had found in FY16 that only 14 per cent of the money given to states for modernisation of their police was used. The same report had found Rajasthan and West Bengal had amazing shortages of 75 and 71 per cent in the weapons needed by their police.

RBI data shows in the past four years up to FY19, the states have in aggregate raised their police budgets by a compounded annual growth rate of 9.16 per cent to touch Rs 1.27 trillion. This includes expenditure on salaries, on weapons, on housing and on transport, and compares well with the CAGR of 11.49 for social sector and 10.01 for economic services (see table) from state budgets. Due to inadequate spending on the part of states, the Centre had to spend more on its own six police forces, whose budget growth consistently outpaced that of any of the big-ticket spending items of the government. Neither has defence or pay out of interest grown so consistently year on year. It is not statistical jugglery that comes from a low base effect. The expenditure was over three per cent of the total government spend to begin with, which means it is higher than the paisa going to subsidies like food. In comparison, with priorities like health or education budgets, the differences was even more startling. 

After the pace of recruitment in state police forces has begun to rise, the vacancies in the ranks has come down marginally from 24 per cent in 2016 to about 22 per cent. A government source said the improvement is because for the past one year, the Centre is now pushing the states hard to fill up the vacancies. In a reply to Parliament, the Ministry of Home Affairs noted, “It is primarily the responsibility of the State Governments/UT Administrations to fill up the vacancies in the police force in their respective States/UTs. The Centre also issues advisories to the States for filling up these vacancies…to meet the expectations of the people.”  A PRS Legislative Research study estimates, that on the basis of the 2016 data, while the sanctioned police strength was 181 police per 100,000 persons, the actual strength was 137 police. The United Nations recommended standard is 222 police per 100,000 persons.  

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