Last year, India witnessed a string of terror attacks which once again put a question mark on the anti-terrorism preparedness of our security establishment. In 2016, Centre directed police stations across the nation to join CCTNS and transfer their criminal database online. However, as per the directives of the Union Cabinet chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a one-year extension has been approved for the project. Though certain police stations have adopted online verification and criminal database systems, the implementation remains lukewarm.
In a broad sense, CCTNS involves data integration across e-court and e-prison databases along with facilitating online complaints, police verification of job applicants, tenants, character verification and migrant labourer registration. This system cuts through the tedious verification procedures and ensures citizen friendly and transparent police functioning. Additionally, it provides tools, technology, and information to facilitate investigation of crime and detection of criminals; smoothening the pre-employment criminal verification process. State police websites provide a Citizen Portal login where verification services can be requested, for which required documents need to be uploaded along with nominal fee payment. However, the system lacks certainty with regards to the Turnaround Time. Furthermore, it is disturbing to note that certain police stations are unaware of the online procedure despite having a State Police website which claims to provide such services as revealed by an extensive internal research study.
This state of unawareness speaks poorly of the criticality of an integrated, accessible and updated criminal database and creates a loophole in the anti-crime infrastructure.
Mushrooming background verification companies take advantage of this loophole and more often than not, provide verifications with false stamps and endorsements. It remains a check-in-the-box with an inauthentic rubber stamp that defeats the innate purpose of a background verification.
Adversaries further claim that data migration from registers and offline records to online databases is a time-consuming process resulting in tardy developments. Perhaps, these tardy developments can be related to the scarcity of a competent technological skill set among the workforce. The Government believes that the extension would help in achieving the remaining objectives of the project comprehensively such as integration with other pillars of the criminal justice system – Forensics, Prosecution, Juvenile homes and a nationwide Fingerprint database of criminals in a phased manner which could take up to 2022.
Conceptualised in 2009 by the Congress, the project was initially slated for completion in 2012. A slew of measures were taken for project realisation like the creation of a national counter-terrorism centre (NCTC) and national intelligence grid (NATGRID). However, due to technical uncertainties and lack of efficient data migration, the deadlines were revised to 2015, then 2017 and now 2018 with an additional five years up to 2022 for the maintenance phase. The “maintenance phase” is, in reality, an extension of the 2018 deadline for smooth operation and integration of the CCTNS.Thus, it is safe to say that the project has been dilly-dallying since last eight years and would potentially continue at this pace for the next five years as well.
The rationale for this delay, as stated by the National Criminal Records Bureau, is the failure of timely achievement of milestones due to a vast amount of data being scattered across the country. Though they envision to complete the project by this October, they agree that full implementation and smooth functioning of the CCTNS would take up to 2022. Upon further investigation with different State police stations, it was found that the project scope is currently limited to online complaints and First Information Reports (FIRs). Numerous States have still not effectuated complete online verifications. Certain States like Himachal Pradesh have a partly online process i.e. one can generate the service request through the CCTNS online portal, however, to complete the verification, they would have to visit the home police station. This information is contrary to the claims made by the PRAGATI report (page 1 and page 6, column 11).
Further, though police stations from Chandigarh to Arunachal Pradesh to Daman and Diu continue to provide offline verifications, they remain adamant of having a CCTNS system in place which would be operational in short time. It has been five years to its initial deadline and the project exists only on paper. Within the police department of each State, there seems to be an air of deliberation with regards to the route ahead. Though the Government has formed several committees and subcommittees for project execution, the major hurdle remains advanced technological capability. Unfortunately, not much has changed in the last three years for the likes of Meghalaya police department and many more. Mizoram Police Crime Branch remarked that none of the Indian states have a fully functioning online employee verification process through the CCTNS. This holds true for States like Maharashtra, Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, and Chattisgarh, all of whom apparently have a seamless online procedure in place as per the PRAGATI report of April 2017.
During our research, it was identified that most State police departments do not possess any or half-baked information about the project. The evident lack of awareness on behalf of police counterparts and inclination towards offline methods jeopardise employee onboarding for Indian conglomerates along with increasing the vulnerability to national crimes and acts of terrorism. Besides, online verification-ready states like Haryana do not seem to have a fixed turnaround time. Haryana has a maximum window of 21 business days and beyond for remote districts.
These timelines are not realistic because they are not in sync with the demand of the corporates’ onboarding durations, giving an opportunity to dubious screening agencies for furnishing untrue criminal records within a span of 7 working days.
Even so, screening agencies are not to be blamed alone; Human Resources pressurise verification companies to submit results within a short span, knowing the fact that the end-result would not be cent percent authentic. For several HR departments in India, criminal verification is a mere compliance measure and not a preventive safety measure.
The Government is also pushing it in high gear. Aadhaar verification is proving a vital tool in the process as it eases authentication process by matching the biometrics of an individual. Aadhar information helps verify antecedents as well. For a vast country like India, it is comprehensible that a seamless online integration of criminal database and online verification procedures would take time to be implemented. However, India has had to bear costs in the absence of national databases and software analytical tools. It is further discouraging that the authorities have not portrayed true developments in their recent publications. The project did not move in its earlier days due to lack of clarity about its ownership and course of action which added to continuous delays. Timely updates on actual progress would be appreciated. In the aftermath of increasing crimes and terror acts in India, one can be hopeful if the authorities would respect their deadline of 2018 for full implementation and not drag it along to 2022.