Forensic Help……
By Maxwell Pereira
maxpk@vsnl.com

No police agency worth its salt can deliver goods, nor indeed survive without an efficient forensic backup to prop its elbow up. A reader of crime fiction or a viewer of crime/ detective movies will know. The basics of crime detection and successful investigation depend heavily on simultaneous and real time presence and assistance of experts from various supportive disciplines - medical, forensic, et al. You'd have invariably noticed the medical and forensic chaps shoulder to shoulder with the police for inspection of any crime scene!

Not so in India. In the absence of in-house police forensic labs, investigators are constrained to innovate, establish expertise from within for a 'crime team' proficient in the basics of crime scene inspection - for collecting clues, storing and then sending them to a 'Lab' for expert opinion; along the way, the system fraught with expected human moods, sentiments and maladies!

Till 1995 the Central Forensic Science Laboratory of the CBI was the only one handling exhibits from Delhi Police. In fact, in the very charter of the creation of CFSL the need to cater to cases of Delhi had featured prominently. Exhibits collected from various scenes of crime were being sent to CFSL for examination and report…. and experts from CFSL called to the scene to assist in collection of clues, re-construction of crime and decide on the line of investigation. Depending on CFSL whose administrative and operational control remained with CBI was a handicap for Delhi Police though, resulting in considerable difficulty.

As years rolled on and CBI's role multiplied, the CFSL was over burdened with CBI's own work, making it difficult to handle the voluminous workload of Delhi Police. Cases that needed priority could not get it. The problem compounded, when CFSL finally decided not to accept Delhi Police cases. The BPR&D steps in, with an adhoc arrangement with CFSLs Chandigarh, Kolkata and Hyderabad to the rescue. This only added to delays in sending and collecting exhibits, adversely affecting investigation process, and attracting adverse criticism from courts. Instances of SHOs having to bear the brunt not uncommon, often the courts even imposing 'costs' of adjournment… not to talk of media criticism such juicy tid-bits attracted, to the detriment of police image and efficiency.

Delhi Police made its bid for an FSL in 1989, in follow up of the 1985 recommendations of the Srivastava Committee, constituted after the '84-Nov riots. Sanctioned in 3 phases, from the date of inception envisaged a part of Delhi Police. Like many who headed the DP Crime Branch and worked for establishing it, yours truly too had the satisfaction of contributing, and seeing its Ist phase come alive during my successor's tenure in 1995, with the DP-FSL consisting of the Document, Biology and Serology Divisions established, under the functional and administrative control of Delhi Police.

For reasons of its own, the Delhi Government transferred the administrative control to its Home Department within six months. In neighbouring Haryana, Punjab, UP, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Forensic Science Laboratories continued to function smoothly under the respective DG Police. The efforts of Delhi Police to regain control of its FSL have not found favour yet.

FSL Delhi now takes up only a fixed and limited number of exhibits, not able to cope up with the genuine requirement. So DP continues to lean on CFSLs Kolkata and Hyderabad, which put together are still not adequate for exhibits generated in Delhi. No timely disposal of cases, especially those pertaining to analysis for detection of poison(s) in viscera - crucial for ascertaining cause of death in homicidal, suicidal or accidental deaths. This impedes expeditious dispensation of criminal justice. Backlog of putrefying viscera, mounting in Police Stations and at the FSLs/CFSL. Delay in analysis of viscera adversely affects the quality of results, diluting evidence. And poisonous substances that undergo chemical changes due to putrefaction, pose danger and a great risk to the health of scientists handling the same.

There is urgent need to clear pendencies piled up, especially of toxicology. The large number of posts of scientists reportedly lying vacant needs to be filled up. There is need to expand capacity to cope with Delhi's workload. It should be mandatory for FSLs to accept exhibits presented by Investigating Officers. In case of inadequate facility, the FSL should explore possibility at other labs to forward the exhibits at their level - instead of the I.O. shuttling from one lab to another. New areas that need attention to ensure a steady growth of FSLs should be identified.

All FSLs must share facilities, establish and maintain quality systems and be linked through networking, to share information locally and from laboratories abroad. Its staff, with multifarious skills, with a wide range of specializations - the staffing pattern, to include a forensic expert to accompany every 'crime team' to help identify and lift initial clues from a crime scene. Ideally one mobile team in each district besides one Central Team. And an adequate budget provision for modernizing, with appropriate financial powers to the Heads of these Laboratories to meet expenses.

And importantly, the FSL-Delhi should once again be under the administrative control of the police, since crime investigation process is in itself the outcome of interaction between the forensic scientist and the police - being the main user of the casework of forensic laboratories.

850 words: dated 24.08.2004: Copy Right © Maxwell Pereira: 3725 Sec-23, Gurgaon-122002. You can interact with the author at http:// www.maxwellperira.com and maxpk@vsnl.com

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