Maintaining law and order has become quite costly for the exchequer. In the past decade, the fastest growing element of the government’s expenditure has been that on police. This trend sits uncomfortably with that of a welfare economy.
It is not a statistical jugglery that comes from a low base effect. The expenditure was over 3 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 such as health or education budgets the difference is even more startling. From that high base, there has been a further steep rise in government money spent to finance the expansion of police force. Both the Unite Progressive Alliance and the current governments has carried on with the trend.
Money deployed on policing by the Centre has consistently outpaced that of any of the big-ticket spending items of the government (see chart). Neither has defence or pay out of interest grown so consistently year-on-year. The scale of growth for police is in double digit in all the years. The only exception is the current financial year, but here too the numbers, as of now, are only Budget Estimates. The actual expenditure in most years has over shot them.
“It is costly, no doubt”, says Rathin Roy, director, National Institute of Public Finance and Policy. He pointed to the increasing use of para military forces in this mix. They cost far more than a state government kilted policeman, he said. Per head expenditure on each of these forces is higher than what states spend on their uniformed staff.
The other reason why the police budget has soared is because of the number of people in the force. Budget data shows over 31 per cent of the central government employee strength comes from police force, including the Indo-Tibetan Border Police, the Central Reserve Police Force, the Central Industrial Security Force and the Delhi Police. As the 7th Pay Commission report stated, “One of the notable aspects of the present deployment of Central government personnel is that security related entities form a large part of civilian employment”. Using data, the Commission concluded, “During the period 2006 to 2014, while every major ministry or department witnessed a decline in persons in position…the total strength of the ministry of home affairs (rose) from 744,000 to 980,000, a growth of 32 per cent”. (italics mine)
The final reason is that states are not spending adequately on their constabulary. So even though law and order is a state subject it is the Centre which is shouldering the responsibility.
In the past five years, all key states have underspent on their police force (see chart). For some of the largest states like Andhra Pradesh, the budget has dipped in some years. But even others who need a strong police presence because of their turbulent law and order situation, there has been hardly any rise in expenditure for their men in uniform. The gap between even their Revised Estimates, which is shown in the Budget figures, and the actual spending reported by the auditors is embarrassingly wide in most years.
Shakti Sinha, Director of Nehru Memorial
Museum and Library and a former civil servant agreed that the rise in central spending had made up for this shortage. “Some of the rise at the Centre has been due to the 6th Pay Commission award that raised salaries of unformed and civilian central government employees in this period,” Sinha said.
So as each year is throwing up more challenges for the Indian state to handle, the central forces are being requisitioned more often. It happened in the latest round of farmers riots and caste riots, too. To make provision for the costlier police force, the Centre has had to economise in other areas. Roy said that expenditure on police was a revenue one. “With this trend it has become impossible to expect a future where the revenue deficit can be contained near zero”, he said. The latest report on fiscal responsibility submitted to the Centre asks for a cap of 0.8 per cent of GDP cap on revenue deficit. The one way to do it is to cut other revenue expenditure. Since wages, interest and even subsidies are rigid, the axe has to fall on non-plan capital expenditure. The states have used their conservative numbers to keep their revenue math in order. May be, given the changed dynamics of law and order the states and Centre should do their policing math afresh.