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Experts Vouch for National DNA Database to Strengthen Crime Investigation in India

Business Wire India
Provision for a Regulatory Board as part of the DNA Technology Bill will ensure data protection
Crime detection rates could potentially go up from 26% to 40% after DNA samples are loaded into the national DNA database

With the DNA Technology Bill pending before Parliament, experts weigh in on the possibility of successful DNA database implementation in India. Addressing related privacy and data security issues, they emphasise regulatory provisions contained therein to ensure data protection.
 
According to them, DNA testing currently in India is performed at a very low rate and on a limited scale. As per the Department of Biotechnology, approximately 30 – 40 DNA experts in 15-18 forensic laboratories undertake fewer than 3000 cases in a year. That means only 2-3 percent of the total requirement for DNA profiling is being met. The DNA Database, both regional and national, would help in improving the quality of conviction, help the judiciary to reduce the backlog of pending cases, and increase their ability to solve cases, backed by scientific validation. The databank could help in expediting justice and lead to an overall rise in the conviction rates.

Dr. Kumarswamy Thangraj, Director, Centre for Fingerprinting and Diagnostics (CDFD), Hyderabad said, “While the criminal justice system around the world has been increasingly relying on DNA forensics to solve violent & sexual crimes, the true potential of this technology can only be harnessed through a national DNA offender database that would allow cross-referencing with criminal DNA fingerprints.”

He further added, “However, since this requires handling sensitive biological data, it needs a strong regulatory framework to operate. It is good to see how close India has come to passing such an enabling legislation after 15 years of deliberation and multiple iterations. Citizens concerned about privacy must note that one of the key features of the DNA Technology Regulation Bill is creation of a DNA regulatory board that would be required by law to ensure data protection. The DNA technology that would be used under this bill would only generate unique profiles of individuals. Hence, the profile could be of great help to investigating agencies to track criminals in future crimes. Most importantly, the DNA profile generated would not reveal any information about the caste/religion/health/disease of an individual.”

The growing application of DNA technology in crime investigation has benefitted law enforcement by enhancing their ability to solve cases faster and to exonerate innocent suspects more quickly. There has been a significant increase in the demand for DNA testing in India in light of recent developments in heinous crime proceedings. India is due to move ahead on one of the few changes that can potentially curb grievous crime and dissuade criminals from acting out without fear.

According to Dr. Vivek Sahajpal, Assistant Director, State Forensic Science Laboratory, Himachal Pradesh, “DNA database will help in cracking blind cases and tracking repeat offenders. It will surely have a deterring effect on the criminals as they can’t help but leave a piece of irrefutable evidence should they commit a heinous crime.”
 
The recent Kotkai gang rape and murder case of 16-year-old Gudiya was solved with the help of DNA testing. In the cases of Priyadarshini Mattoo and Nirbhaya, the courts have delivered their judgment with the help of DNA evidence. Recently the Supreme Court granted bail to an 84-year-old man, accused of rape, after noticing that the DNA report had established that he is not the father of the child born to the rape victim.

While the number of DNA tests in India remains on the lower side, investigations supported by DNA as a tool have increased as there is higher awareness on its significance.

According to, Dr. Pinky Anand, Senior Advocate Supreme Court of India, “The database for DNA profiles of criminals increases substantially the chances of repeat offenders being caught and deters individuals, whose profiles are stored in the database, from committing offences again. These repeat offenders can be easily tracked if we have a DNA database in place. Maintaining a DNA database has helped many nations so much so that the detection of crime in the UK went up from 26% to a healthy 40% after DNA samples were loaded into the national DNA database.”

Addressing apprehensions on the proposed DNA Technology (Use and Application) Regulation Bill, she commented, “The DNA Bill provides that the data will only be made available to the law enforcement and criminal justice system. The Bill categorically mentions that the DNA samples will be collected from a person with their consent except for offences that are punishable with death or imprisonment terms exceeding 7 years. If a person refuses for the same, then the application is made before the Magistrate. The Magistrate grants approval only when convinced it will prove or disprove the guilt of the arrested person.”

Current Global Scenario

Around 70 countries, including the US, UK, Canada, Malaysia, South Africa, Australia, have DNA Database which helps them investigate criminal cases and expedite justice. The Royal Malaysia Police has analysed and accumulated more than 139,000 DNA profiles in the national databank since 2013. During the initial years, there were only 13,000 DNA profiles in databank resulting in only 2 matches whereas, in 2018, a total of 100,000 DNA profiles were successfully uploaded to the database leading to 33 DNA matches.

Current Indian Scenario

In India, the DNA Technology (Use and Application) Regulation Bill was first introduced in the Lok Sabha in 2019 and again in February 2021. The matter was a listed agenda item this Monsoon Session in the Parliament and is likely to be taken up soon.

The primary objective of the DNA database, as per the Department of Biotechnology, is to enable the profiling of victims, those accused of crimes, those reported missing, and storing of their DNA information in national and regional data banks. The Database would also allow identification of missing children and of unidentified deceased individuals including disaster victims and apprehend repeat offenders for heinous crimes (rape, murder, etc.). It aims to regulate the use of DNA profiles for lawful purposes in establishing identity in criminal and civil proceedings.

The DNA profiles to be stored are not for an entire population but for specified categories of individuals such as convicts and suspects of major crimes, relatives of missing persons so that their DNA profiles can be compared with profiles of unidentified deceased individuals.

DNA fingerprinting is already practised in our country and the evidence has been used in many criminal court cases with success. The procedures for crime scene collection, sample storage, chain of custody, preventing contamination, data analysis, etc. are quite routine. The DNA Database would help save time, resources, and national wealth in crime scene investigation procedures and expedite the process at every step. The implementation of a DNA Database would allow significant restriction of repeat offense, instil fear in the minds of offenders and thus gradually make India a safer society.

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