Barely a month after 104 men died from consuming hooch in Malwani, the viscera report of each victim had said it clearly that the brew was actually the industrial solvent methanol. Armed with this critical forensic report, investigators are now set to add murder charges to the case when they file the chargesheet in the coming weeks.
Attaching a viscera report with the chargesheet was something impossible for the police until recently, say officials, for while a chargesheet is required to be submitted within 90 days of registration of the FIR, the viscera report would take months to come.
The situation has changed now.
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In stark contrast to circumstances two years ago when viscera reports reached the investigating team after an average delay of about 18 months, the speed with which the Maharashtra Forensic Science Laboratory (FSL) is now sending out viscera reports is proving to be a shot in the arm for the Mumbai Police in case after case.
A viscera report indicates if a person was poisoned to death, drowned or died of natural causes.
An assistant director at the FSL said the backlog of cases till mid-2013 was so large that they could start working on a case nearly a year and a half after submission of the samples by the police (barring ‘high profile’ cases). The FSL is now tackling cases within two months.
Last year, a query under the Right to Information Act had revealed that the FSL forwarded as many as 14,892 cases with the toxicology division in charge of submitting viscera reports between 2013 and 2014. The division thereafter sent a written application to the Maharashtra home department stating that the backlog had become unmanageable.
“The home department then hired 30 men in the toxicology department on a one-year contract,” said former FSL director M K Malve. As many as 10 units, each comprising an officer, a scientific assistant and an attendant, then worked on the backlog between September 2013 and September 2014, along with the permanent staff of 30 already working in the department. During this period, the toxicology division completed reports in nearly 12,000 cases.
Explaining how the reduced backlog has improved efficiency, an official at the FSL said reports sent out this July were for cases submitted as recently as May. There are currently eight units in the toxicology division, as some of the permanent staff has retired. “Earlier, we would not have been able to touch those cases until next May. The backlog piled up over the years always prevented us from working swiftly on current cases,” the official added.
“While it will be difficult to give an exact time frame, we definitely receive reports quicker as compared to the past,” said Vinay Kulkarni, senior inspector at Worli police station.
Another officer said viscera reports were a key part of the chargesheet on most occasions now, something they “could not even think of” earlier.