DNA TECHNOLOGY (USE AND APPLICATION) BILL, 2019
WHY IN NEWS?
- Recently, the panel headed by Jairam Ramesh, tabled its report in Parliament. DNA testing is currently being done on an extremely limited scale in India, with approximately 30-40 DNA experts in 15-18 laboratories undertaking less than 3000 cases a year. The standards of the laboratories are not monitored or regulated.
- The Bill aims to introduce the regulation of the entire process from collection to storage.
- The preamble of the bill says that it aims to provide for “the regulation of use and application of Deoxyribonucleic Acid [DNA] technology for the purposes of establishing the identity of certain categories of persons including the victims, offenders, suspects, undertrials, missing persons and unknown deceased persons.”
KEY FEATURES OF THE BILL
- Establishment of a DNA Regulatory Board; accreditation of DNA laboratories undertaking DNA testing, analysing, etc.
- Establishment of the National and Regional DNA Data Banks, as envisaged in the Bill, will assist in forensic investigations.
- This will aid in scientific up-gradation and streamlining of the DNA testing activitiesin the country with appropriate inputs from the DNA Regulatory Board which would be set up for the purpose.
- The Bill will add value in empowering the criminal justice delivery systemby enabling the application of DNA evidence, which is considered the gold standard in crime investigations.
ADVANTAGES OF DNA PROFILING
- Deoxyribonucleic acid, commonly known as DNA, is the hereditary complex moleculepresent in humans and almost all other organisms.
- Most DNA molecules consist of two bio polymer strands coiled around each other to form a double helix. The two strands are called polynucleotides since they are composed of simpler monomeric units called nucleotides.
- Through DNA profiling technique, heinous crimes can be easily solved.
- It can also help to nab criminals. DNA profiles taken from the place of crime can be matched with the samples of criminals arrested even after several years.
- This technique is very effective in identifying accident victims, missing people or identifying disaster victims.
- The identification of parents is also possible with the use of the DNA profiling.
CONCERNS RAISED BY THE PANEL
- Many members of the committee too had expressed concern over including “suspects” in this list, flagging that it could lead to misuse and targeting certain categories of people.
- In two dissent notes, critics have said the bill will lead to targeting of Muslims, Dalits and Adivasis.
- The committee has said that while taking on board these concerns, it has gone with the majority view of retaining the preamble.
- Its report, however, notes that these fears are not entirely unfounded and have to be recognised and addressed by the government and by Parliament as well.
- At the same time, the committee has observed that it does not negate the need for such legislation especially when DNA technology was in use.
- The report has said “In fact, its use in recent months has exposed a false encounter in which innocents were killed contradicting initial claims made that they were militants”.
- Recently, it has pointed to the last encounter at Shopian in Kashmir, where the Army had killed three men claiming to be unidentified terrorists.
- The DNA sample from the three dead men matched with their families, confirming it to be a fake encounter.
- Justice Lokur has stated that the provisions of the bill can lead to targeting of select groupings, including social, linguistic, religious and other minorities on the ground of being suspects.
- He has also pointed to other clauses of concern, including not creating separate data banks for civil and criminal matters.
- This will result in a presumption against the person, even though they have not consented to giving their DNA sample for use in the criminal investigation.
- There is also no guidance in the Billon the grounds and reasons when the magistrate can override consent, which could become a fatal flaw.
- Therefore, in the absence of a robust data protection legislation, the security of a huge number of DNA profiles that will be placed with the National DNA Data bankand its regional centres becomes questionable.
- The government, on the other hand, has been arguing that since DNA tests are already happening, and frequently used as the most reliable tool to establish identity, it would be better to have regulatory safeguardsso that it is carried out only in prescribed manner and by authorised personnel and institutions.
- The government has also claimed that very limited information is proposed to be stored in the indices just 17 sets of numbers out of billions that DNA samples can reveal. These can tell nothing about the individual except to act as a unique identifier.