After the December 16, 2012, gang rape of a young woman in Delhi, there was a demand for setting up fast-track courts for the speedy disposal of rape cases. Since then the number of such courts has gone up to nine but that statistic has had no impact on the rate of disposal of cases, which has been hit due to delays in filing crucial forensic reports. According to the Delhi Police, at least 2,500 DNA samples are pending in forensic laboratories in cases involving the rape and murder of women and minors.
We have heard of how there has to be better street lighting for women’s safety, better monitored public transport, self-defence training and so on. But one problem seems to have fallen by the wayside. That is actually making sure that a rape case gets into the legal system. For this, the police have to be aware that they need to make sure that they have the forensic evidence to proceed in any case. Unless forensic evidence is collected within 24 hours of rape being committed, the case could well fall through. This problem of getting proper and timely forensic analysis, which can make or break a case, is increasingly becoming acute in India. There are several reasons that have led to this crisis: First, there is a huge imbalance between the number of forensic laboratories and the samples that are sent to them, they are more often than not overburdened; second, there is a dearth of quality scientists and analysts; and third, very often, these tests are not monitored for quality.
The lack of quality has to do with the lack of availability of trained technicians and analysts and also, in many cases, the integrity and credibility of the person handling the case. Many experts feel that ‘forensic science’ unfortunately continues to be of ‘ornamental and cosmetic utility’ to the investigating agencies, which only completes the formality of legal process and satisfies the lay public by using it. It is showcased only when major or sensational crimes occur to satisfy the inquisitive and demanding media and citizens. Compared to other disciplines of science and technology, forensic science, experts say, is “static and stunted” in India. But the government must realise the importance of forensic science to the justice system of the country and how it can help investigating law enforcement agencies and the criminal justice system. By improving it, the government can enhance internal security, help the criminal justice administration and reduce the risk of wrongful conviction/exoneration.