TWO YEARS after a draft Bill to create a regulatory framework for DNA testing triggered a major debate, the government has told the Supreme Court that it was in the process of finalising a fresh version of the Bill and introduce it in Parliament. The government’s submission in the apex court came in response to arguments that the absence of a national DNA database was hindering the identification of unclaimed bodies.
“Mr P S Narasimha, learned ASG (Additional Solicitor General) appearing for the Union of India, submits that the introduction of the legislation, i.e. Human DNA Profiling Bill, is in process,” said a July 17 order from a bench of Justices Dipak Misra, A M Khanwilkar and M M Shantanagoudar.
The court is hearing a petition by Lokniti Foundation, an NGO, which had suggested that maintaining of DNA profiles of bodies before their disposal could help in their identification by family members at a later stage. “Since the bodies cannot be identified using traditional methods, the perpetrators of the possible crime remained untraced and the families, to which the victims belonged, never come to know about the fate of their near and dear ones,” it said.
“One of the main reasons for a large number of bodies remaining unidentified is that a person freely moves from one part of the country to another in search of work and members of poor families have no means to keep in touch with their near and dear ones… It becomes difficult for the local police to identify persons who have no local connection and who have died without anyone complaining of death caused by any mischief,” the NGO said.
In 2015, the government had finalised a draft of the Human DNA Profiling Bill, seeking to establish the institutions, standards and guidelines for DNA testing in designated laboratories. Several provisions of the Bill came under heavy criticism on grounds of privacy, and reliability of technology, although there was a general agreement on the need to regulate DNA testing. The government decided not to introduce the Bill in Parliament and went in for fresh rounds of consultations to improve the provisions of the Bill.
Narasimha suggested that the consultative processes were still not complete, and that it was too early to discuss the specifics of the Bill. “It (the Bill) will have to go through several rounds of consultations and discussions before being drawn up,” he told The Indian Express. He admitted that the Bill will once again trigger discussions on privacy issues, just like the debate on Aadhar has done. “Which is why the government is not in any rush (to finalise the Bill). All concerns will be taken into account,” Narasimha said.
The Bill, first mooted about 15 years ago, is aimed mainly to assist law enforcement agencies in tackling crime but provides for DNA testing techniques to be used in other situations as well, like establishing parentage or blood relations between individuals. It seeks to create two new bodies, a DNA Profiling Board that will act as the regulator and supervise all activities relating to testing, storage and matching of DNA samples, and a DNA Data Bank both at the national level and in the states.
The proposed law also seeks to make it mandatory for all DNA labs to seek accreditation from the Board.