New forensic lab in Chandigarh set to revolutionise investigation into cases of sexual assault
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New forensic lab in Chandigarh set to revolutionise investigation into cases of sexual assault

CFSL office in Chandigarh is all set to revolutionise investigation into cases of sexual assault with India’s first advanced DNA forensic lab

punjab Updated: Jul 14, 2018 14:17 IST
Jatinder Kaur Tur
Jatinder Kaur Tur
Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
Chandigarh,sexual assault,Central Forensic Science Laboratory
The new lab will give a huge push to CFSL by giving it the bandwidth to analyse 2000 cases a year instead of 153 cases at present.(HT File)

The Central Forensic Science Laboratory (CFSL) in Chandigarh is gearing up for a first-of-its-kind advanced DNA forensic lab, which will give investigators an edge by examining cases relating to sexual assault of women and children.

The high-tech lab named the Sakhi Suraksha Advanced DNA Forensic Laboratory will go a long way in cracking cases such as those of Himachal’s Gudia rape and murder case. Almost 100 crore will be mobilised from the Nirbhaya Fund to set up such labs across the country.

The big leap

The new lab will give a huge push to CFSL by giving it the bandwidth to analyse 2000 cases a year instead of 153 cases at present. This will go a long way in bringing down the unsolved cases of sexual assault in the northern region. The region has one of the highest pendency of such cases in the country, largely due to lack of infrastructure and manpower. Of the 13,000-odd pending cases nationwide, more than 50% (7,332 cases) are from the north and they pertain to rape,foeticide, homicide and criminal paternity (cases in which conception is a result of rape or incest).

“This lab is being set up as a model forensic lab, which will be replicated in other CFSL labs on which work is going on simultaneously,” said Dr SK Jain, director of CFSL.

The lab will consist of four units--sexual assault and homicide unit, paternity unit, human identification unit and mitochondrial unit-- for addressing different kinds of cases. While the paternity unit will be equipped to solve cases related to criminal paternity, gender selection and child swapping in hospitals, human identification unit will help in tracing missing persons or children. Mitochondrial unit will be able to explore family relationships and carry out DNA analysis in cases of highly degraded or old samples where regular Nuclear DNA analysis is not possible.

Dr Jain said the project is on the fast track and he has already sent a proposal to the Ministry of Home Affairs regarding the vacancies that need to be filled up and the equipment needed. At present, the lab has a skeletal staff of just two persons. It needs 45 scientists and 26 supporting staff to become fully operational.

The basement of the existing CFSL complex in Sector 36 will be used for storing the ‘criminal exhibit’ or the evidence. Any biological evidence has to be stored and preserved in a scientific manner to prevent contamination and to make any examination/reporting meaningful, explained Dr Jain. However, at present the CFSL can store samples of only around 200 cases. While the sexual assault and homicide unit will come up on the fourth floor, the existing facility on the fifth floor will be dedicated to human identification and mitochondrial units, shared Dr Jain.

DNA profiling

DNA profiling is a technique based on the principal of genetic heredity. It identifies individuals at molecular level, says Dr Jain. Forensic DNA profiling has become one of the most valuable tools in modern criminal investigation used to identify the culprits in sexual assault cases. It is also used to determine the identity of a person, resolve paternity/maternity disputes, and even cases related to organ transplantation.

The lab is a site of frenetic activity these days so that the sexual assault and homicide unit can become operational in three months even though it will take a year for the entire facility to become fully functional.

What next

The CFSL labs at Guwahati, Kolkata, Hyderabad, Pune and Bhopal will also get DNA labs on the lines of Chandigarh with the city team providing training to the employees and prototype of the infrastructure required. Then, there will be two standalone forensic labs at Mumbai and Chennai. Together, these labs will be able to analyse nearly 50,000 cases a year.

For want of proof

In sexual assault cases, the mandated time frame to complete the examination and submission of report is 90 days. But this is not possible with the given infrastructure and the absence of advanced technology. The courts demand more admissible, accurate, and powerful forensic proof. The Supreme Court established fast track courts for the speedy disposal of cases against women and children after the Nirbhaya rape, but cases continue to pile up due to inadequate forensic facilities. It was against this backdrop that the government decided to set up these specialised labs. The DNA laboratory will include facilities for identification of the accused.

A kit for cops

CFSL is preparing an evidence collection kit for investigating officers of police in sexual assault cases. Officials said the kit will be supplied to all police stations and hospitals for the collection of evidence like blood and semen samples in rape cases. These kits will include directions on the way to collect and store these samples from the scene of crime. The sealed and signed kits will then be sent to the DNA lab.

First Published: Jul 11, 2018 17:57 IST