Raising questions about the sanctity of tests conducted at one of India’s premier forensic labs, documents accessed by The Indian Express show that a dispute between scientists at the Central Forensic Science Laboratory (CFSL) in Hyderabad led to the internal organ samples of 12 bodies being allegedly “thrown away” by a lab attendant.
A second set of viscera samples from the bodies were tested 16 months later after the Home Ministry finally intervened after sitting on at least 15 letters sent to various officials by the scientist who first brought the matter to light, according to documents obtained under the Right to Information (RTI) Act.
Incidentally, the samples were reported to have been allegedly destroyed on January 23, 2014, just two days after the Supreme Court, while ruling on a case of poisoning, had directed forensic labs to “ensure that the viscera is examined immediately and report is sent to the investigating agencies/courts post haste”.
However, in one note related to the alleged incident in the Hydebarad lab, a Senior Scientific Officer at the Directorate of Forensic Sciences Services (DFSS), under the Home Ministry, wrote on August 5, 2014: “…the CFS (Chief Forensic Scientist) has advised not to take up the matter at HQ level at this juncture. Keep file in abeyance”.
The ministry finally stepped in after the scientist warned in a letter dated April 6, 2015, addressed to its Joint Secretary (Admin) and Chief Vigilance Officer that any further delay “will be very serious as the matter (is) related to various Hon’ble courts of law…”
On April 17, the ministry set up a committee comprising the three scientists involved in the dispute to get the samples tested again. But it is yet to take any action against the scientists for causing the delay.
According to sources, the samples that were allegedly destroyed at Hyderabad’s CFSL were taken from unidentified and unclaimed bodies, including that of a child, sent in 2013 by the state forensic lab in Delhi’s Rohini.
When contacted by The Indian Express for an independent opinion, Prof Sudhir Gupta, head of the Department of Forensic Medicine at AIIMS, said that the “delay in examination would have made the viscera useless”.
According to documents accessed by The Indian Express from CFSL (Hyderabad), the Home Ministry and Delhi Police, the destruction of the samples were flagged on January 23, 2014, in a letter sent by Seema Srivastava, Senior Scientific Officer, CFSL, to the Chief Forensic Scientist, Directorate of Forensic Science Services (DFSS), New Delhi.
Srivastava wrote that she had “opened twelve (12) no. of toxicology viscera cases for case examination on January 20, 2014 and kept in… (the) chemistry division laboratory. Today I went for further analysis of above viscera cases; I found that my exhibits of viscera cases are missing…”.
She added: “When I enquired, the lab attendant… informed that he had thrown away the exhibits and washed the glassware on the instructions of… students of Osmania University attached to Dr Sukhwinder Kaur and Dr Deepak Midha respectively. The two students in turn informed me that Dr Sukhwinder Kaur and Dr Deepak Midha had instructed them to throw away exhibits and wash the glassware.”
Srivastava also alleged in the letter that when she informed the then lab director V Venugopal about the incident, he “blamed me… and shouted at me in very insulting manner”.
When contacted by The Indian Express, Srivastava, who is still with the CFSL in Hyderabad, declined to comment.
Dr Kaur, who is now with the CFSL in Chandigarh, declined to comment on the incident but said: “I am not posted at Hyderabad now. You may contact the authorities there.”
Dr Midha, who is also with the CFSL in Chandigarh, did not respond to calls and text messages seeking comment.
Venugopal, the former lab chief who is now retired, said: “The lady who lodged this complaint has caused all this trouble and delay. The entire set of samples were not destroyed, only a small quantity that were already used were thrown away. It did not have any bearing on the testing because portions of the viscera were still preserved.”
The documents, meanwhile, show that Srivastava raised a series of red flags, in the form of complaints and reminders, to her superiors and other senior officials in the ministry.
On January 27, 2014, a week after her first complaint, she wrote to Venugopal, asking him to “register an FIR in the local Police Station for inquiring the official matter”.
Venugopal then sought explanations from Dr Kaur and Dr Midha who denied the allegations, the documents show.
Among the documents made available are two legal notices sent by Srivastava’s lawyer, to the Chief Forensic Scientist at DFSS, and the MHA’s Joint Secretary (Police Modernisation), Joint Secretary (Administration) and Chief Vigilance Officer, accusing them of “losing the valuable exhibits… with the willful intention of destroying her” career.
Finally, on May 18, 2015, the Senior Scientific Officer, DFSS, wrote to the Home Ministry: “The three scientists deputed as per decision taken in the above meeting for the purpose, have analysed all the 12 cases collectively and jointly, under the supervision of Sh. V. Venugopal, Ex. Director I/c, CFSL, Hyderabad and the Examination Reports are ready for submission to the forwarding authority.”