The numbers are daunting at the Maharashtra Police’s Finger Print Bureau — an inflow of at least 1,700 fresh cases every year, a monthly disposal hovering between seven and eight cases and a pendency standing at 4,000. With only 19 scientists as against a sanctioned strength of 30, the century-old agency is barely keeping afloat.
“We have prioritised finishing off old cases,” said a scientist at the Mumbai regional centre, which functions out of the dusty barracks, behind the Marine Drive police station.
The agency, headquartered in Pune, functions under the state Criminal Investigation Department and has regional centres in Mumbai, Aurangabad and Nagpur. Established by the British while the region was still the Bombay Presidency, over time, its focus shifted to examining crime scenes, and to white-collar crimes, these days. Its finest hours came when asked to authenticate the map of targets drawn by the 26/11 accused Ajmal Kasab.
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While only three per cent of all cases registered at the police stations in the state are referred to the agency, these are confined largely to two categories — suicides and white-collar crimes.
“In Mumbai, where property deals take place all the time, we are sent a lot of cases where the power of attorney is falsely obtained. Forgery is on the rise,” said another senior expert, who did not wish to be named.
The experts manually examine each document sent to them to observe the writer’s characteristics. The pressure that the writer applies at various places in the document tells the experts a lot about the writer. Experts, however, can only conclude whether a person accused of wrongdoing or who has been wronged has written a particular document, only when they are given another sample of writing.
“Fingerprints are fixed data. The handwriting of a person varies with mood but by studying it, we are able to tell his or her characteristics and habits,” said the expert.
A large proportion of forgery cases are related to elected representatives denying having signed letters of recommendation even after being confronted with their own writing. Typically, most of the cases under this bracket, referred to the agency, follow a certain pattern — a local municipal counsellor or MLA or at times MP issues a letter to recommend a person from his constituency for employment. When the employee, generally with a criminal history, creates trouble at the office and is hauled to the police, the authorities question the representative’s recommendation.
“In most cases, we have found that the accused MLAs lie about having signed letters. But these days, they are trying to avoid trouble by getting their secretaries to put their signatures,” said the expert.
The average suicide note that the agency is asked to verify, according to the expert, belong to women who are harassed by in-laws before deciding to kill themselves.
Officers at the agency complained, however, that their numbers were rising as quickly as the number of crimes they were asked to investigate. Proposals to introduce 34 new posts of experts and elevate them to the status of class-I officers are pending with the Home department.
And, while the government recently approved granting the agency 3,000 square feet of space spread across two floors of the soon-to-be constructed modern building to house the Marine Drive police station, the expert said, “Conditions have to improve. We are doing the work of scientists.”