Indian Union Cabinet approves DNA Technology Bill

On 4 July, the Ministry of Science and Technology released a press statement that said the Prime Minister Mr Narendra Modi approved the DNA Technology (Use and Application) Regulation Bill 2018, that will develop a DNA databank of criminals and help the government identify missing persons and disaster victims faster.

The press release stated that the bill aims 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 remains protected from misuse or abuse in terms of the privacy rights of Indian citizens.

Mr Jayaraman Gowrishankar, Indian National Science Academy senior scientist at the Centre for DNA Fingerprinting and Diagnostics in Hyderabad said that the Ministry relies on DNA for two things - establishing the biological identity of an individual and determining whether there is any biological relationship between two people. Through the bill, the Ministry will be able to expand the application of DNA-based forensic technologies to support and strengthen the justice delivery system of the country. The utility of DNA-based technologies, for solving crimes and identifying missing persons, is well recognised across the world.

The Ministry said that the bill's provision will enable cross-matching between people that have been reported missing and unidentified bodies found in parts of the country; it will also be used to establish the identities of victims of mass disasters. The bill also provides for mandatory accreditation and regulation of DNA laboratories, preventing non-accredited laboratories to test DNA samples.

The bill's title was altered after the Law Commission reviewed the original draft, named Human DNA Profiling: A draft bill for the Use and Regulation of DNA-Based Technology, suggested few changes, and developed precautions in the law to take care of any privacy concerns.

The bill was created to establish rigorous standards to regulate the activities of laboratories while using DNA profiling technology, to be able to identify missing children and unidentified deceased individuals including disaster victims, to convict repeat offenders and to ensure that there is no unauthorised use of DNA samples or information. Forensic DNA profiling is proven value in solving cases involving offences that are categorised as affecting the human body (such as murder, rape, human trafficking, or grievous hurt), and those against property (including theft, burglary, and dacoity).

According to the press release, the aggregate number of these crimes in the country, as per the statistics of the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) for 2016, is more than three hundred thousand per year. Of these, only a very small proportion is being subjected to DNA testing at present. The Ministry expects that the expanded use of this technology in these categories of cases will lead to not only better justice delivery but also an increase in conviction rates, which currently stands at only 30% (NCRB Statistics for 2016).

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