How COVID-19 changed the crime profile of India in 2020

Cases of ‘disobedience’ or violation of COVID-19 norms increased by over 20 times in just a year; without it, overall crime was lower than 2019

By Richard Mahapatra
Published: Wednesday 15 September 2021
A street in Kolkata during COVID-19 lockdown. Photo: Wikimedia Commons
A street in Kolkata during COVID-19 lockdown. Photo: Wikimedia Commons A street in Kolkata during COVID-19 lockdown. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

India remained under containment for the whole of 2020 due to the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic. However, the overall number of crime cases in the country increased by 28 per cent for the year, according to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB)’s Crime in India 2020 published September 15, 2021. 

The surge in cases registered is due to an unprecedented rise in one specific category of crime — Disobedience to order duly promulgated by Public Servant (Section 188 of the Indian Penal Code, or IPC). This crime mostly refers to the various public regulations and norms enforced to contain the COVID-19 pandemic.

A total of 29,469 cases were registered in 2019 under Section 188 of the IPC. Some 612,179 cases were registered across India in 2020, according to the NCRB report. This is a 20-time increase over a year. The NCRB data covers cases from January 1 to December 31.

Cases also increased significantly under another category related to violations of COVID-19 norms and regulation — Other IPC Crimes. Cases under this section of crimes increased by four times to 1,062,399 in 2020, from 252,268 cases in 2019.

Cases also increased by four times under the Special and Local Laws (SLL) between 2019 and 2020. This section refers to state regulations imposed to enforce COVID-19 norms. Under this section, there were 89,553 cases in 2019 which increased to 414,589 cases in 2020.

All cases related to the violation of COVID-19 regulations resulted in 1,643,690 more cases being registered in 2020 in comparison to 2019.

The NCRB analysis showed that without this surge in cases related to COVID-19 violations in 2020, the number ‘traditional crime’ had reduced during that year by about 200,000 cases. 

The country reported a total of 4,254,356 cases of cognizable crimes in 2020. This was 28 per cent higher in comparison to 2019. But, without factoring the cases of violations of COVID-19, crime cases came down in 2020.

The NCRB report noted: 

The country remained under complete lockdown from March 25-May 31, 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic (First Wave), during which time movement in public space was very limited. The cases registered under crimes against women, children and senior citizens, theft, burglary, robbery and dacoity have therefore declined ...

“ ... whereas COVID-related enforcement has resulted in an increase of cases registered under ‘Disobedience to order duly promulgated by Public Servant (Section 188 IPC)’, under ‘Other IPC Crimes’ and under ‘Other State Local Acts’,” it concluded about the increase in crimes that were expected to be lower.

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