Significant movements in past few months suggest that the country is working towards instituting DNA technology more prominently as part of the criminal justice system. Noticeable measures taken to beef up the DNA infrastructure and manpower will go a long way in building readiness for a national DNA database, should the DNA Technology (Use and Application) Regulation Bill, 2019, move forward this winter session in the Parliament.
The purpose of the bill is to create a regulatory framework for obtaining, storing, and testing DNA samples, mainly for criminal investigation purposes. The bill also seeks to establish a national data bank and regional data banks. These profiles are then meant to guide law enforcement agencies in investigations in ways that have not been possible so far. To that effect, state-of-the-art technologies are required for DNA forensics to help law enforcement agencies solve and prosecute more crimes.
Speaking on positive movements towards building the foundation for a DNA infrastructure, Dr. Pinky Anand, Senior Advocate Supreme Court of India said, “The advancement of science and usefulness of DNA is a tool of justice for victims especially for heinous sexual offenses. DNA evidence was first accepted in 1985. Since then, DNA has increasingly been used for identifying and apprehending the accused. A recent example is the Gudiya case where a gang rape and murder was resolved by DNA evidence and the accused was convicted for life. The DNA Technology Regulation Bill institutionalizes and regulates the use of DNA; the other provisions are the setting up of National and Regional DNA data banks. As many as 69 Countries have a national DNA database, which has shown remarkable results in crime detection and conviction. Repeat offenders in sexual offenses is an unfortunate feature. With the data bank the potential for tracing crime scenes, suspects, under-trials is immense. The data bank will maintain data like the crime scene index, suspects and under-trials index, sexual crime offenders index, missing persons index, and unknown deceased person index. While addressing the successful apprehension of offenders, the data bank will also assist in establishing the innocence of the falsely accused.”
She added, “NCRB reports 3,71,503 cases of crimes against women in the year 2020. During the pandemic period also there have been as many as 28,046 incidents of rape. DNA database in these circumstances will augur a step in the right direction to effectively repress the grievance of victims by use of credible and scientific data. The DNA bill is definitely the need of the hour.”
Recently, the Nirbhaya Fund’s Empowered Committee of Officers proposed strengthening DNA analysis facilities in Forensic Science Lab (FSL) in the states of Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Bihar and Nagaland at an estimated cost of Rs 17.31 crore. In the state of Maharashtra, Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray launched three fast-track DNA testing units, under the Nirbhaya scheme, which would help expedite DNA evidence examination. Similarly, Karnataka FSL is increasing its manpower and investing in mobile laboratories to help support forensic investigations.
Highlighting the importance of DNA infrastructure and manpower requirements, Dr. D.K. Thangaraj, Director, CDFD, Hyderabad said, “It is good to see both central & state government authorities work towards expanding the capacity of forensic DNA crime labs across the country, particularly in interior districts, by upgrading regional FSLs. For India to take a leap in DNA technology through a national offender DNA profile database system, we need two things – a strong policy framework and an equally robust nationwide technical infrastructure.
While we eagerly await the formalisation of the DNA regulation Bill. It is important to build scientific & technical capabilities in DNA forensics for providing DNA-based evidence as quickly as possible.”
Earlier this year, Home Minister Amit Shah laid the foundation of forensic sciences institute in Lucknow and Goa. In his speech, while inaugurating the Goa campus of the National Forensic Sciences University (NFSU), he said that the Union government is considering making it mandatory for forensic investigations to be conducted in any crime that involves a possible punishment of six years or more.
There is also an increased focus to recruit and train forensics practitioners to ensure availability of qualified manpower, especially in a specialised field like DNA. The National Forensics Sciences University (NFSU), Gandhinagar has plans to set up ten more campuses in different states, five campuses abroad and 50-100 affiliated colleges in the span of next five years. The proposed plan is aimed at better integrating forensic sciences into the law enforcement machinery of states as per the requirements of respective law and order situations.
With a rise in incidents of heinous crimes, the government is looking to scale DNA capabilities in the country with an eye on reducing backlog of cases and speeding up the justice delivery system. DNA evidence has proven to be most conclusive in building rightful convictions in complicated cases and is being widely accepted and applied by many nations in crime investigation procedures.
It is evident that the growing application of DNA forensics in criminal investigation procedures will benefit the law enforcement agencies, enhancing their ability to solve cases faster and more effectively. The success of DNA evidence in Kothkai and the Nirbhaya gangrape cases notably led to a significant increase in the demand for DNA testing by both investigative agencies and courts across the country.
Explaining how a growing number of countries around the world are leveraging DNA databases to combat crime more effectively than ever before, Tim Schellberg, President, GTH-GA, added, “While DNA casework operates at a basic level by matching a crime scene profile to a known suspect, the real power of this technology is expressed with a database system. Only a DNA database allows for comparisons with unknown suspects and multiple crime scenes. This is when DNA evidence transforms from a corroborative mechanism to a truly powerful investigative tool.”
India seems poised to move ahead on one of the most significant changes in its criminal justice system that can potentially curb grievous crime and dissuade perpetrators from committing repeat offences. Implementing the national offender DNA database should be a positive step in that direction.