Polity & Governance Prelims cum Mains

Union Cabinet clears DNA profiling bill

The News

  • The Union Cabinet has approved DNA Technology (Use and Application) Regulation Bill, 2018 with primary aim of establishing an institutional mechanism to collect and deploy DNA technologies to identify persons based on samples collected from crime scenes or for identifying missing persons.

 

Key objectives of the bill

  • The bill seeks to regulate the use of DNA for criminal investigation and justice delivery, allowing the storage of genetic information of select persons.
  • It seeks to expand the use of DNA to help solve crimes, identify missing persons and determine biological relationships between individuals.

 

Important provisions of the bill

DNA Profiling

  • The bill seeks to authorise and regulate the collection and storage of DNA information from a limited category of individuals “in conflict with the law”.
  • It involves only individuals involved in cognisable offences under criminal laws.
  • Dubbed as the DNA profiling bill, it allows law enforcement agencies to collect DNA samples, create “DNA profiles” and special databanks for forensic-criminal investigations.
  • The Bill creates a DNA Profiling Board that would be the final authority that would authorise the creation of State-level DNA databanks, approve the methods of collection and analysis of DNA-technologies.
  • However it doesn’t aim to create a database of DNA profiles.
  • The databanks can only store information related to criminal investigations and the DNA details of suspects will be deleted.

Regulation of DNA laboratories

  • The bill also seeks to regulate the quality of DNA laboratories by providing for mandatory accreditation and regulation of DNA laboratories.
  • This will ensure that DNA test results are reliable, apprehend repeat offenders and protect against privacy infringement.

Identification

  • The bill also enables cross-matching between persons who have been reported missing and identifying dead bodies, including victims of mass disasters.

 

Background

  • In 1987, the DNA fingerprinting was utilised as a tool for criminal investigation, to establish blood relations and trace medical history.
  • Prior to the use of DNA, identification was heavily based on finger prints, foot prints, blood, or other evidence at the crime scene.
  • National Crime Records Bureau’s crime statistics 2016 suggests that the conviction rate for rapes is 25 per cent.
  • The NCRB statistics have documented over 300,000 crimes directly affecting people or property but conviction rates remain at about 30 per cent.
  • Only a small proportion of these crimes are at present investigated through DNA testing.
  • Two Hundred and Seventy First (271st)Report of the Law Commission of India, titled “Human DNA Profiling” has recommended a separate legislation to regulate the use of DNA testing.

 

Need for a separate bill

  • DNA profiling technology has been found to be very effective for social welfare, particularly, in enabling the Criminal Justice Delivery System to identify the offenders.
  • Use of DNA based technology is much appreciated in judicial proceedings, particularly, identification of persons accused of offences under the Indian Penal Code 1860 (IPC) and other laws, identification of missing persons and disaster victims apart from its use in medical sciences; a need has long been felt to have a special legislation to regulate human DNA profiling.
  • However DNA analysis offers substantial information which if misused or used improperly may cause serious harm to individuals and the society as a whole.
  • Merely amending the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, may not serve the purpose.
  • In view of the scope of the use and misuse of human DNA profiling, it has been felt that it is required to be regulated by a special law with well delineated standards, quality controls and to ensure the credibility of the DNA testing and its restricted use
  • Thus, there is a need to regulate the use of human DNA profiling through a standalone law of Parliament so that such use is appropriately regulated and restricted to lawful purposes only.

 

Science behind DNA profiling

  • DNA stands for deoxyribonucleic acid.
  • DNA is a molecule that all living organisms carry in every cell in their body.
  • The DNA from different humans is almost completely identical.
  • More than 99.9% of the sequences of two individuals are the same because we are all from the same species.
  • Even so, in a genome of three billion base pairs, even a tenth of a percent difference translates to about three million base-pair differences.
  • These differences are responsible for the fact that all individuals have their own unique genome.
  • The lone exception is Identical twins, whose DNA is exactly the same.
  • There are several dozen of these highly variable regions in the human genome.
  • Some of the most highly variable parts of the DNA are regions called VNTRs, because they contain a variable number of tandem repeats.
  • A DNA profile is created by counting the number of times that a repetitive sequence of base pairs occurs on an individual’s chromosomes.

 

 

A case for DNA testing: Advantages

  • It helps establish beyond doubt the biological identity of an individual.
  • Also it helps beyond doubt to determine whether there is any biological relationship between two persons.
  • The retention of DNA profiles in a database will help apprehend repeat offenders.
  • The bill is in line with similar practices in the developed countries.
  • The reliability of DNA for identification is likely to help an increase conviction rate which at present is only around 30% in cases of murder, rape or human trafficking, among other crimes involving the human body.
  • Where fingerprints are unavailable, DNA will help establish identity.
  • The information in the 17 DNA positions uniquely identifies an individual, his or her gender, and relationship with biological relatives.
  • It provides absolutely no information about age, race, behaviour, or body or health features or susceptibility to diseases, thereby protecting the privacy of the individuals.

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