Nitish Kumar and his officials maintain that Bihar has one of the lowest crime rates in India.
Bihar police crime data indicates otherwise.
Satyavrat Mishra reports.
IMAGE: Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar at his Janata Durbar in Patna, April 2013. Photograph: Archana Masih/Rediff.com
On February 12, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar had just concluded his weekly Lok Samvad programme, where he interacts with people and takes their suggestions on policies, at his residence in Patna.
As he fielded questions from journalists after the event, Kumar beamed with satisfaction while talking about the political scenario in the state.
With Deputy Chief Minister Sushil Kumar Modi of the Bharatiya Janata Party on his side and Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Lalu Prasad in jail, the road ahead looked smooth for his government.
The expression on his face, however, changed when a journalist asked him about the recent spike in crime in the state.
"Ah, you have asked a very important question," he replied mockingly.
He argued that the National Crime Records Bureau data showed that Bihar had one of the lowest crime rates in the country and that there had been no deterioration in the law and order situation.
"See the data, crime has declined. Only the reporting of criminal activities has increased," he said.
Just 24 hours after Kumar declared all was well on the law and order front, a Janata Dal-United leader named Pankaj Kumar from the CM's home district, Nalanda, was found brutally murdered.
Pankaj Kumar, who was the chairman of the Primary Agriculture Credit Society of Malama panchayat, was allegedly kidnapped on February 11 and later tortured to death.
This wasn't a stray incident. On February 6, a seven-year-old girl was abducted in Gaya and her mutilated body was found near the district magistrate's residence the next day.
The incident caused massive protests in the city. The mob went berserk and it took the police six hours to regain control.
It all happened while the chief minister was in Gaya to review the development work in the district.
The review meeting was supposed to take place at the collectorate, but the district administration was forced to organise it at the lounge of the Gaya airport given the tension in the city.
Even as Kumar was mocking the journalist over his question about the state's deteriorating law and order situation, traders at the grain market in Bihta, 20 km west of Patna, were forced to shut their shops and lock themselves at home.
The reason was a series of ransom calls to almost a dozen of them. The local police was found to be no match for tech-savvy criminals who made the calls using masking software.
Top officials from Patna and 60 commandos were rushed to the area and asked to remain there until the situation normalised. After a series of raids, the police nabbed half a dozen criminals.
The police have also launched an intensive drive against the criminals in Bihta, which is home to many educational institutions, including the Indian Institute of Technology-Patna.
A mega industrial park and a number of factories have also come up in the region in recent years. However, this industrial suburb now runs the risk of turning into a hot bed for criminals and extortionists with reports of ransom calls coming from the region almost every day.
The state capital, Patna, has also witnessed several high-profile kidnappings this year.
Last month, a Class 9 student was abducted from the posh Patliputra Colony. The kidnappers had demanded Rs 1.5 crore from the student's father -- a high-profile trader.
The police, however, acted swiftly and managed to rescue the boy within 12 hours. It was one of the few kidnappings reported this year.
On January 17, a 14-year-old boy, Raunak Kumar, was kidnapped for ransom; the police found his body 48 hours later.
On January 29, a seven-year-old boy was kidnapped, but rescued by the police hours later.
The chief minister and his officials maintain that the state has one of the lowest crime rates in India.
"According to the NCRB data (for 2015), the state is ranked at 22nd position in terms of number of crime per 100,000 people. We are much behind several states. No one can claim to completely eradicate crime, but we have obviously reined it in," the chief minister said.
"However, at the same time, reporting of individual crimes has gone up. Now, I can't control what you write, can I?" asked Kumar.
"We reported only 171.6 crimes per 1,00,000 population, while national average is 234.2. We are much behind in terms of the number of crimes. Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Kerala are ahead of us in this regard, but they don't have to explain it. It is all about perception," said a senior police official.
"A lot has been done in terms of the law and order situation in Bihar. Therefore, people are now demanding more," he added.
However, the crime data maintained by the Bihar police indicates otherwise.
In 2017, Bihar witnessed more than 24 per cent spike in cognisable offences -- crimes which can be investigated by the police without judicial oversight -- when compared to data from 2016.
A total of 0.23 million criminal cases were filed by the state police last year, whereas 0.18 million cases were filed in 2016. Numbers show an uptick in criminal cases across the board.
A total of 2,803 murder cases were reported last year, whereas 2,581 cases were registered in 2016.
With a total of 1,198 cases of rape, Bihar witnessed an increase of 20 per cent in crimes against women.
There was a spike of 22 per cent in kidnapping last year, compared to 2016.
Last year, the state also witnessed an increase of 21.5 per cent in theft cases.
Government officials claim that the numbers don't present the whole truth.
"Since the prohibition, the number of cases has gone up. Therefore, you need to segregate the criminal cases and prohibition cases. There have been a lot of successes in terms of law and order in the state," Bihar Director General of Police P K Thakur said.
"However, there is a lot to be done. As development has spread, criminal activities have also gone up. There is a need to increase police presence to counter it. We need to establish new police stations, outposts and pickets for this," Thakur added.
Criminals, he said, have also changed their modus operandi and the area of operation.
"Earlier, most of the criminals were localised. Today, many of them just cross the district, state or national border to avoid arrest," Thakur explained. "Their tools for communication have also changed. We have changed our style of functioning accordingly."
"However, the police would always be procedural and therefore it would take some time to crack cases and make arrests. Still be assured, we would catch them."
Not everyone agrees with the DGP.
"There needs to be respect for rules. It can be maintained by a police force with high morale and self-confidence. This is what is lacking in Bihar. The situation can only be restored by infusing professionalism and transparency in the system," said former DGP D N Gautam.
Other factors need to be taken into account when analysing kidnapping data.
"Out of the total, 2,539 people fled home last year in connection with love affairs. Since their parents have registered a case of kidnapping, we are forced to mention them as kidnapping. In reality, they are not," said a senior police official.
However, in several cases, it has been found that the police refused to file abduction complaints by parents of girls, saying that they must have eloped with their lovers.
Amid all this, allegations and counter-allegations are flying thick and fast.
RJD leaders allege the chief minister is so busy keeping his job that he has forgotten to do the job that he is meant to do.
The ruling JD-U-BJP combine rubbishes these remarks, pointing to the RJD's own dismal record at preventing crime.
For the parents of the seven-year-old girl who was abducted and murdered in Gaya, meanwhile, the chief minister's claims have no meaning.
'Nobody is going to fight for my daughter. Nobody even cared to visit us. The police assured us that there would be speedy investigation and speedy trial, but no action has been taken so far,' the victim's father was quoted as saying by The Telegraph.
'Had I been an important person, the whole system would have supported me.'