Anti-corruption in Bihar’s police force

Princeton University This analysis is based in part on research conducted by Rohan Mukherjee and first published in July 2009 by Innovations for Successful Societies. The scoring assigned and the text below represents the Centre’s own work, however, and do not reflect the views of the case study authors, Innovations for Successful Societies, or Princeton University. Quotes included in the text come from interviews carried out in Bihar in July 2009.

Nitish Kumar was elected as chief minister of the Indian state of Bihar in 2005 with a mandate to reform the police and address the high levels of crime, unrest and corruption. He restructured the force and recruited a varied and able group of army veterans, senior law enforcers and able administrators to revitalise the state government and strengthen crime prevention.

The challenge

In December 2005, when Nitish Kumar was elected chief minister of Bihar, India’s poorest state, the state’s government was facing the results of two decades of institutional decline, widespread lawlessness and a society deeply divided by caste and religion.

The main challenge he faced was that unfettered criminal activity was badly affecting social and economic life and there were inadequate resources to control it. The police force was short-staffed and unmotivated, there was widespread corruption in the ranks, and it had a poor reputation with the Bihar public. Popular perception was that the levels of crime were responsible for the state’s poor economic performance, in particular the lack of a robust private sector, low external investment levels and emigration to wealthier regions.

The initiative

“Using innovative measures, Kumar and his top police officers set out to rid Bihar of its so-called ‘jungle raj’, or law of the jungle”, [1] and reduce the crime rate in the state, especially the high instances of kidnapping for ransom.

In order to do so, they first reorganised the police force and recruited ex-servicemen into the Special Auxiliary Police and recalled staff from the Bihar cadre of the Indian Police Service (IPS) who were posted elsewhere in India. To prevent violent crime, they used major provisions in the Indian Arms Act of 1959 in making arrests, charges and prosecutions.

The public impact

There was a significant direct impact of these initiatives in the increase of convictions and a decrease in violent crime:

  • The state of Bihar’s courts convicted nearly 70,000 criminals between 2005 and 2009.
  • Between 2005 and 2011, there was a drop in the number of violent crimes in Bihar – murder (from 3,423 to 2,198), banditry (from 1,191 to 556) and kidnapping (from 251 to 57).

These are likely to have contributed to an encouraging level of economic growth. Despite the “economic crisis and three years of droughts and floods, Bihar posted 11 percent average annual economic growth over Kumar's five years in office, making it the second-fastest-growing state in India”. [2] Per capita income was almost doubled in the same period, from US$300 to nearly US$500 per annum.

The economic growth in turn supported the administration’s infrastructure development: 6,800 kilometres of roads were laid and 1,600 bridges and culverts were built, cutting journey times in half in many areas.

What did and didn't work

All cases in our Public Impact Observatory have been evaluated for performance against the elements of our Public Impact Fundamentals.

Legitimacy

Public Confidence Fair

Nitish Kumar won the state elections in November 2005 on a promise to end the 'Jungle Raj' and his party. He won 88 of the 243 seats, 33 ahead of his nearest rival, a solid mandate. However, at the beginning of his overhaul of the police force the people of Bihar had little faith in the administration or the state police: “everyone understood that the police will come only when you’re dead; not to save you when you’re alive”. [4] A 2005 survey by Transparency International identified Bihar as the most corrupt of India’s 28 states and 7 union territories and its police force as by far the most corrupt among all the public services in India.

Stakeholder Engagement Strong

The major stakeholders in the state government's aim to reform the state police department were:

  • The chief minister and the state government.
  • The Bihar police force and the IPS. Those who were abroad or on study leave were invited to return to Bihar in order to be part of this initiative.
  • The civil servants, who appreciated the fact that the state government promised to honour the three-year period for postings so that they had greater stability.
  • The state judiciary under the High Court of Bihar, The government sought the support of the high court to set up 'fast-track courts' in the state to ensure speedy trials to which the high court responded positively.

All these actors were supportive of the government.

Political Commitment Strong

The Janata Dal (United) – JD(U) – led by Nitish Kumar, was elected in Bihar on a platform of good governance together with intolerance of crime and corruption. The initiatives taken by the leadership of the state police department was strongly backed by Kumar himself. Also, the chief minister was directly involved in attracting experienced administrators and police to Bihar.

Buoyed up by the chief minister’s support, “the police force became an effective law enforcement agency with the equipment, resources and autonomy required to carry out its duties. Kumar also took pains to insulate the police from political interference.” [3] He also restructured the force and recruiting new blood. “But what was most important— and difficult— was applying the law equally across caste and political lines."

Policy

Clear Objectives Good

The objectives of the reform programme was to improve the law and order situation in Bihar by reducing crime rates. This has remained consistent throughout the first term (2005-2009) of the government. However, it did not include any measurable targets in terms of reduction in crime rates or convictions.

Evidence Fair

The decision to reform and refurbish the police force was born out of need and the government did not look at other models, but progressed by devising strategies to tackle the different types of crimes that were prevalent in Bihar, for example, an armed Maoist movement (the Naxalites), based in the countryside, posed a major security threat while there were many instances of violent crimes between religious and caste-based groups.

Feasibility Good

Even before undertaking the reforms, the department conducted a thorough analysis of the staff strengths and weaknesses, chief of which was a shortage of about 12,000 personnel.

The chief minister was personally involved in recruiting IPS officers to lead the reform process, including selecting a chief of police. Rather than recruit and train 12,000 new police, an infeasible task, a large number of Indian Army jawans (infantrymen), who retired in their early 40s, were taken on to fill some of the gap.

Action

Management Good

The chief minister recruited top talents to lead and reform the state police by attracting talented officers belonging to the Bihar cadre of the IPS. They were given the licence to create and implement innovative strategies to deal with the high levels of crime. These officers brought with them a wealth of experience from the field. At the same time, Kumar stressed that the police should “adhere to the strictest standards of human rights protection”. [5]

Measurement Good

The initiative aimed at reducing crime rates and also increasing conviction rates in the state. To measure the effectiveness of the programme, the government and the state police department used the crime and conviction rates published by National Crime Records Bureau as well as data generated internally by the police department. After Kumar’s government came to power it monitored these metrics consistently.

Alignment Good

Central to the reform programme was the relationship between the state government and the police force. The water resources minister, Vijay Kumar Choudhary, said that: “the actions were made possible because the state government took steps to help increase people’s faith on the police. The speedy trial mechanism has been effectively used to expedite convictions. The setting up of special courts for speedy trials has been used effectively all over the state. This has had a major role to play behind bringing down the cases of crime in Bihar.” [6] Officials returned to Bihar and were given key positions in the government with the responsibility and opportunity to implement their mandates.

External organisations, such as the World Bank, assisted with job creation, the Japanese foreign aid agency and the Asian Development Bank with infrastructure investment, the UNDP and UNICEF with health, education, and children’s issues, and the UK’s development agency with governance. Together, they supported the state in economic initiatives that resulted in rapid economic development and initiatives that improved general wellbeing. This helped to improve the law and order situation in the state.