Election duty has thrown an already short-staffed Forensic Science Laboratory (FSL) out of gear, causing further delays to the investigation of important cases such as the brutal rape of a five-year-old in Kandivali and the mysterious death of three Virar school students.
On the election commission's orders, 225 of the 261 staff members of the Kalina FSL have been sent for election duty. That leaves 36 personnel - some of whom are Grade III and Grade IV staff - to handle 6,127 pending cases from Mumbai alone. There are 10,065 cases pending across the state.
Depending on the nature of the procedure, a forensic test can take between a week and a month. The Kalina FSL conducts various tests such as DNA, toxicology, biology, ballistic, prohibition and cyber etc
Sources claim that FSL staff tried to avoid election duty, telling the election commission that such an important department cannot run only with 36 members.
"The election commission officials did not accept our plea and asked us to keep a few officers and lower staff only for emergency services," said a FSL source. "We have been giving priority to important cases and the students' death in Virar is also among them," he added.
According to officials at Kalina FSL, the lab was already short of 95 staff members, given that its sanctioned strength was 356. Across the state, 211 posts out of the sanctioned 931 continue to remain vacant.
Sources said that the highest number of pending cases is in voice identification (officially known as Tape Authentication and Speaker Identification) where 1,492 cases are pending across the state for nearly three years.
This is followed by cyber cases where the pendency is 1,038 across Maharashtra. All these cases are pending at Kalina FSL, as only this lab possesses the facilities to conduct these tests.
"Last year 28,970 cases had come to Kalina FSL. However, we analysed 32,028 cases including few pending ones from 2012," said a FSL official.
"We received 22,560 cases this year till August and analysed 26,944 cases that include the pending ones. Due to the shortage of staff in FSL, thousands of cases were pending in the last few years," said MK Malve, director, Kalina FSL.