RSTV SUMMARY – 9TH JULY, 2019

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By moderator July 10, 2019 10:38

The Big Picture – DNA Technology Bill

The DNA Technology Regulation Bill, which seeks to control the use of DNA technology for establishing the identity of a person, was introduced in the Lok Sabha on Monday amid questions being raised by opposition parties on its provisions. A similar bill was passed in Lok Sabha in January but it could not be cleared in the Rajya Sabha. The bill had then lapsed with the dissolution of the previous Lok Sabha. The proposed law, which has been in the making since at least 2003, is the third attempt by the government to enact a law to regulate the use of DNA technology in the country after an earlier version of the Bill had been finalized in 2015 but could not be introduced in parliament. The congress was against the introduction of the bill, raising privacy and other concerns. The Minister for science and technology Dr. Harsh Vardhan, who introduced the Bill, however, rejected the concerns raised by the opposition saying there is “no serious substance”.

What is the bill about?

  • It is trying to establish a regulatory framework for the usage of DNA information.
  • It establishes authorities at the central and the state level for keeping the DNA information.
  • The Bill also specifies what kinds of DNA information can be stored in the form of different indexes like DNA of undertrials, suspects, missing persons, etc.
  • It also establishes a regulatory board which among other things would have the powers to authorize laboratories across the country to collect DNA information.
  • The bill also provides a framework for the collection and removal of DNA information.
  • DNA profiling can be done only with the consent of the person in cases where the offense has a punishment of fewer than seven years otherwise consent of the individual is not required.
  • The bill provides a schedule at the end which lists the circumstances under which DNA information can be used.

Background

  • In 2000, a conference was organized by the then President, Dr. A P J Abdul Kalam on how biology impacts the society. It was attended by many Chief Justices of High Courts and judges of the Supreme Court and the High Courts and other eminent people from India and abroad.
  • A report of the meeting recommended that India should formulate a bill on DNA Technology as many countries across the world had already done the same.
  • Thus the bill was formulated and presented to the Department of Biotechnology in 2002.
  • Four years later, a DNA Profiling Advisory Committee put together by the DBT had drafted the Human DNA Profiling Bill, which saw a series of changes until 2012.
  • In January 2013, the government created a committee to examine the 2012 draft.
  • They finished up in late-2014 and circulated the draft within the Ministry of Science & Technology for comments. In January 2015, the revised document was sent to the Legislative Department of the Ministry of Law & Justice.

Need for the bill

  • DNA is being admitted as evidence in courts which was not the case earlier.
  • DNA is some material that can bring out the truth in any crime scene and can be collected from dead bodies or any body part including a flock of hair or even the saliva.
  • Many accused are acquitted in courts due to lack of evidence. Wherever DNA has been used, the conviction rate is very high.
  • DNA does not require sophisticated technology for storage. Basic laboratories can be upgraded for storing DNA.
  • Experts say DNA will become the game changer in an investigation of crimes and eventually become inevitable for investigators.

Challenges

  • The bill provides for the usage of DNA for not only criminal offenses but also civil offenses.
  • DNA can be used not only to establish the identity of a person but also to gather many details on an individual like the ailments the person may have etc. In other countries, only that part of the DNA is used which can establish the identity of the person. The other part is never used. The bill does not mention whether a part of the DNA or the whole DNA would be used.
  • DNA can be collected from any body part in any crime scene but the bill does not mention any circumstance in which the evidence may be destroyed.
  • The bill also mentions that the laboratories would hand the DNA back to the investigators after usage in the laboratory. The bill thus leaves a loophole for the investigators to use the DNA information as it is not said what the investigators would do with the DNA.
  • The DNA, if handed over to certain institutions like the insurance agencies, may prove detrimental to the individual as such institutions may use the DNA against the individual, say to reduce health insurance due to an ailment found out from the DNA.
  • The bill also provides for a provision to erase the DNA information from the database if the individual requests so in writing. This may lead to loss of information which may become handy at a later stage. For eg. in the tsunami of 2004, the identity of unclaimed bodies was found out using DNA and handed over to the respective families.
  • Privacy of an individual is also a concern for the individual whose DNA information has been stored as Right to Privacy is a Fundamental Right as judged by the Supreme Court.

Way forward

  • The laboratories should destroy the DNA in the labs itself after its usage rather than handing it over to the investigators.
  • Information from the DNA database should not be removed or erased as it may become useful at a later stage. However, appropriate safeguards should be incorporated in providing access to the database.
  • The data protection law which is being formulated should be passed before the DNA Technology bill to ensure the protection of the DNA information being stored.
  • It should also be ensured that the DNA information would not be used for further analysis other than to establish the identity of the person.
  • The Parliament, while debating the bill, should bring in experts to understand and address the concerns in the bill so that a better bill can be formulated.
  • Adequate personnel should be trained for the collection and storage of DNA so that the information is not destroyed and adequate checks and balances should be put in place to ensure the information is not compromised.
  • It is also necessary that the bill after its final formulation is implemented in letter and spirit while taking into its ambit the technology changes that may arise in the future.
moderator
By moderator July 10, 2019 10:38