Cabinet approves DNA Technology bill

Cabinet approves DNA Technology bill

Cabinet approves DNA Technology bill - paves the way to create DNA data bank for hardened criminals

More than 15 years after it was conceptualised, the Union Cabinet on Wednesday approved the contentious DNA Technology (Use and Application) regulation bill 2018 that seeks to create a DNA data bank for hardcore criminals and help the administration identify missing persons and disaster victims faster.

In its formative years, the bill kicked up a controversy after a section of the non-governmental organisation alleged that the bill violated the privacy of an individual – a charge denied by the government officials and scientists who drafted the legislation.

The bill's provision would enable cross-matching between persons who have been reported missing on one hand and unidentified dead bodies found in various parts of the country on the other. It would also help to establish the identity of victims in mass disasters, says a press note issued by the Cabinet.

The most important application of the legislation would be in the criminal justice system as it would allow the government to maintain a DNA database for the criminals convicted of heinous crimes.

Over a period of time, the database is expected to lead to better justice delivery and improve conviction rate, which currently stands at 30%.

In addition, the bill provides for mandatory accreditation and regulation of DNA laboratories, preventing non-accredited laboratories to test DNA samples.

“The purpose of the bill is to establish rigorous standards to regulate the activities of laboratories undertaking DNA profiling, to enable identification of missing children and of unidentified deceased individuals including disaster victims; to apprehend repeat offenders for heinous crimes; and to prescribe penalties for the unauthorized use of DNA samples or information,” explained a scientist at the Centre for DNA Fingerprinting and Diagnostics, Hyderabad, who was involved in drafting the legislation.

The bill's title was changed after the Law Commission reviewed the original draft – named Human DNA Profiling: A draft bill for the Use and Regulation of DNA-Based Technology – and suggested few changes. The commission also assured on the safeguards in the law to take care of privacy concerns.

Scientists too brushed aside the apprehensions. “It authorises the collection and database retention of just 17 pairs of numbers from a person's DNA that which are sufficient to establish the identity of an individual by comparison with a second sample. The samples are taken from non-functional portion of the gene and wouldn't reveal any information on the traits of an individual,” Jayaraman Gowrishankar, INSA Senior Scientist at CDFD told DH.

Every year, there are more than 3 lakh cases of murder, rape, human trafficking and dacoity where forensic DNA profiling is of proven value in solving the crime. Of these, only a very small proportion is being subjected to DNA testing at present.

“By providing for the mandatory accreditation and regulation of DNA laboratories, the bill seeks to ensure that with the proposed expanded use of this technology in the country, there is also the assurance that the DNA test results are reliable and the data remain protected from misuse or abuse in terms of the privacy rights of our citizens,” says the Cabinet note.

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