By Amarnath Tewary
Patna, Bihar state
The government in India's most lawless state, Bihar, has come up with a new approach to crime. It is paying criminals to surrender and give up their weapons.
Over 190 criminals have surrendered (Photos: Prashant Ravi)
A murder takes place every two hours, a rape is committed every six and a bank is looted every day in Bihar, according to police records.
Now a desperate state government is offering 10,000 rupees ($222) to every criminal to turn themselves in.
It is also offering a monthly 'income' of 3,000 rupees ($66) to every criminal who surrenders.
The government's compensation rates for arms depend on the type of weapon given up:
- 25,000 rupees ($555) for a rocket launcher, light machine gun or a rifle
- 15,000 rupees ($333) for AK-47 guns
- 3,000 rupees ($66) for pistols, revolvers, and old rifles.
So far 191 criminals have already surrendered for cash in the districts of Supaul and Madhepura in the presence of Bihar's new chief minister, Nitish Kumar.
Nearly 90 weapons were also turned in for money.
'Sending a message'
But officials are keen to stress that there is no escape for the guilty.
"Surrendering criminals will have to face legal proceedings," senior state police official Anil Kumar Sinha says.
Nitish Kumar, who became chief minister in November, believes that cash-for-criminals is a way of shoring up the abysmal law and order situation in the state.
"The exercise is to send a message to the criminals that they should either surrender or the police would hound them out and take their cases to the logical end. The message has begun to yield results," he says.
Mr Kumar should know - in the first 100 days of his rule, there have been 141 kidnappings and 400 murders in the state, according to police.
Bihar has acquired the infamous reputation of being India's kidnapping 'capital' - the police says there have been over 30,000 abductions since 1992.
Opposition politicians, not surprisingly, have criticised the cash-for-criminals scheme.
"Commit crime and surrender - and get a 3,000 rupees salary from the government!", mocks senior Rashtriya Janata Dal leader Shakuni Chaudhuri.
The government, however, says the cash-for-criminals scheme is part of a larger plan to rehabilitate criminals.
Bihar's additional director general of police Abhyanand told the BBC that the state had earmarked 200,000 rupees ($4,444) as a "rehabilitation package" for every criminal who surrendered.
The government will pay a quarter of this money, while the remaining will come in "easy bank loans" to criminals, he says.
Bihar is India's kidnapping 'capital'
It also says the money will be deposited in a bank account held jointly with a family member of the surrendered criminal, and there will be a cap on the maximum withdrawal every month.
The government says it also plans to pay for the primary education of the children of the surrendering criminals.
Observers wonder whether such a scheme would encourage people to take to crime, and then surrender for the lucre.
Police chief Abhyanand says the government will be carefully screening the criminals who surrender to avoid such an eventuality.
"And remember, the surrendering criminals still have to face the courts."
Only time will tell whether this will help in ushering some peace in troubled Bihar.